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Hamilton: An American Musical: When Hyperbole is not Hype

by Rita Kohn
December 13, 2019
Clowes Memorial Hall of Butler University
4602 Sunset Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317-940-6444
Rita Kohn, member: Dance Critics Association, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild
I watch movement. That’s my basic vocation; it’s also what I do as avocation. There’s always a story in the way individuals move alone, and in a group. How we move defines us in someone else’s ’seeing-ness.’ Being acutely aware of movement is basic to how I work as a journalist.

Movement—as meaning and memory, as momentum and meditation, as menace and mediation — is central to the widespread embracing of Hamilton: An American Musical, crediting Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography as the central force for the entire production’s catapulting verve, enfolding us with a lexicon all of its own as the silent storyteller bridging the rapid-fire verbiage with its counterpart music where each instrument vies along with each character brazenly building their brave new world to the cadence of their body in space. We see attitude —body in space—before we can assess truth in words.

Words, music, movement come at us as in kaleidoscopic relentless clicks; shapes, colors, architecture, animating space and time. We join in or get run over. The brilliance of the choreography is in its gifts of breathing space. The color is the melding of emotion with intellect. In my lifetime I’ve had other such aha moments in the seat of a theater. Each time I said, this is the penultimate creative choreographic innovation. Each time I said thank you for the gift of being in such a presence. Each other time I felt the communion with fellow audience members. But what happened choreographically with Hamilton: An American Musical required time away from the glow and afterglow. I’ve needed a few days after attending the December 11th performance at Clowes Memorial Hall to assess what happened viscerally, intellectually, emotionally because of movement. Aesthetically, I could tick off the influences. There’s a bit of Ragtime here, a touch of Fosse there, an echo of Graham, even a hint of Balanchine, and most definitely a huge dose of Robbins.

But there’s salient Blankenbuehler spirit that needs to be recognized. I learned more about musketry in five minutes than I never knew I missed not knowing. It was a whack on side of head cognizance of what so enthralled. Repetition of battle maneuvers, as with other strictly Blankenbuehler innovations, solidified essential facets of events. On top of that, I began to witness the messages in leg and foot placement in moments of stillness, and what we needed to know about subtext in any given moment in this amazingly taut production where there is nothing extraneous on any level. Blankenbuehler clearly has in hand tricks of seeing and feeling inherent within architecture and visual art. Suddenly, I found myself standing in the Sistine Chapel, upward spellbound. Blankenbuehler had thrust me into the choreography of paintings by Early Masters, from whom he has plucked essentials of anticipating action. Michelangelo's breathtaking painting in The Sistine Chapel gave me the penultimate sense of two bodies revealing intention, and tricking me into ’seeing’ them moving into spheres of activity. Front leg extended into a forward move, back leg assuredly anchoring. Expectant momentum with the touch of fingertips.

And then understanding that when legs are in horizontal line, stolidly apart, expect a character biding time. The depiction of legs, fingertips, tilt of head recurring in varying scenes throughout Hamilton: An American Musical are a case study in ‘reading’ the essence of characters.

Ticks of breath before Hamilton engages in that fateful assignation with the woman in red, we feel the dreaded outcome. It’s in the choreographed posture. We’ve grown fond of this upstart with a fiery determination to free his new comrades from the grip of colonialism. We want to shout out—no, don’t be so stupid. At least I wanted to shout out. But I said to myself; it’s uncouth to shout out in theaters, though Hamilton often felt like a sports match with team members donning identifying clothing atop ‘their down to the skivvies’ initial costuming. And yes, there’s choreography in the costuming. In fact, there’s choreography in the mechanics of the setting—a donut turning around a solid center, and a solid periphery around the turning donut so we experience choreographed text and subtext revolving around each other in real time—“Carnival” reincarnated.

Of course, Andy Blankenbuehler does not create in a vacuum. He’s within the sterling book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who culled brilliantly from the acclaimed biography, "Alexander Hamilton," by Ron Chernow. And then there’s the creative team of actors, musicians, designers, coordinators, producers, supervisors, managers working collectively with music supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire and stage direction by Thomas Kail.

As with any number of people letting me know this is their second or third time attending to catch all nuances, I know I’ll have to take a seat at least one more time to grasp the extraordinary dedication by the cast to pull off this amazing production as if they’re one body, one mind. Via a phone call, my daughter let me know that the production she witnessed in London was just as “tight” as this Indianapolis production. “Not an extraneous, thought, word, movement to distract from the story in its purest form,” she reported.

From the audience members seated behind me, I learned that Indianapolis, Cathedral High School graduate Whitney Hale-McDermott is part of the Hudson Theatrical Associates-Hudson Scenic Studio creating the scenery and automation. As far as I could determine, Hale-McDermott is the sole Indianapolis connection with this Broadway in Indianapolis tour company.

Up next for Broadway in Indianapolis:

COME FROM AWAY

January 21 – 26, 2020

“The true story of the small town that welcomed the world. Broadway’s COME FROM AWAY has won Best Musical all across North America! The New York Times Critics’ Pick takes you into the heart of the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships. Don’t miss this breathtaking new musical written by Tony Award nominees Irene Sankoff and David Hein, and helmed by Tony Award-winning Best Director, Christopher Ashley. Newsweek cheers, “It takes you to a place you never want to leave!” On 9/11, the world stopped. On 9/12, their stories moved us all.”
Elijah Malcomb, Joseph Morales, Kyle Scatliffe, Fergie L. Philippe and Company - HAMILTON National Tour.

Elijah Malcomb, Joseph Morales, Kyle Scatliffe, Fergie L. Philippe and Company - HAMILTON National Tour.

Photo © & courtesy of Joan Marcus


Joseph Morales and Company - HAMILTON National Tour.

Joseph Morales and Company - HAMILTON National Tour.

Photo © & courtesy of Joan Marcus

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