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Theater Review: Hamilton at the Eccles

Jon Patrick Walker as King George. Photo by Joan Marcus

It was about 10 minutes in when I realized that my mouth was open, I had literally dropped my jaw from the first note of what is often described as “the jaw-dropping musical Hamilton.” Also, I was on the edge of my seat, literally the entire evening, mainly so I could get as close as I could from the my third-tier balcony seat.

Thing is, I’d heard the cast recording, many times. I knew that it was cool, funny and intense but with Hamilton seeing is believing. The kinetic production never sits still. With each powerful number, a chorus of hip-hop dancers gyrate behind the principals, the center of the stage is a turntable, used to great affect throughout, and actors enter from catwalks above. All of it is sensory overload—a writhing moving, breathing homunculus of enthusiasm and bravado. Just listening to the soundtrack hadn’t prepared me at all.

OK now I’m gushing but what? I’m going to give Hamilton a bad review? Maybe in 20 years when its an old chestnut touring around the country like the Sound of Music. But this is the first touring cast of what is perhaps the most popular piece of musical theater ever created. They brought out the big guns here. Technically flawless, incredibly sung, danced and acted, Hamilton may not have been the advertised reason we footed the bill to build the Eccles Theater but it is a rich payback for them’s that could get tickets.

And that’s probably the only sour note I have. Even though the promoters tried real hard to make sure those tickets went to county residents a lot ended up in scalpers hands, who have jacked up the price beyond what was already a tidy sum. We all shrug and say “that’s the free market” but with something like this, I think perhaps a system, like the Sundance Film Festival’s locals ticket sales should be put in place. But enough about that.

Joseph Morales has to step into some pretty big shoes, reprising the creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s role as Hamilton but Morales plays it ably—the young driven, polymath striver with no seeming end to his ambition comes alive in his hands.

All three of the Schuyler Sisters—Angelica (Ta’Rea Campbell) Eliza (Shoba Narayan) and Peggy (Nyla Sostre, who also plays the wanton woman, Maria Reynolds) had some pipes man. But it is Naryan’s Eliza, jilted after, well, some stuff happens, who once again dropped my jaw with her performance of “Burn.”

In a standout cast, Nik Walker as Aaron Burr stood way out. His cocky, winking Burr was a delight to watch, even though he’s technically “the bad guy” on account of his, you know shooting Alexander Hamilton. Yeah, that happens. Read a history book. Walker’s unraveling into the anger that leads to the fateful duel and Burr’s ultimate ruin, was masterful.

And of course, there’s King George (John Patrick Walker, pictured above). This play is intense, complicated and moves quickly, and Walker’s foppish king gives us a little breather with his Sir Elton John-level diva-ness, pouting and wounded, all topped off with a very, very sparkly crown.

Also adding a bit of levity is Kyle Scatliffe’s Thomas Jefferson, a Colonial Prince, as in “the artist formally known as,” complete with velvet purple suit and Scatliffe plays it to the hilt with big grins, con man charm and eventually some steel. However, Scatliffe’s Lafayette (he plays both roles) was perhaps the only minor bump here. At times the affected French accent muddled up his delivery.

And I could go on and on. The choreography, the set, the sound, the orchestra is all as perfect as anything I’ve ever seen. I know, I know. You’re thinking “how good can it be?” I hope you find a way to answer that question for yourself.

Hamilton runs through May 6, 2018 at the The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater. And, yeah, it is completely sold out so this review is basically rubbing it in.

There is, however, a daily ticket lottery. Forty orchestra tickets will be sold to winners for every performance for $10 each. Throughout the run the daily lottery will continue each day starting at 11 a.m. There’s a whole bunch of really complicated instructions that involve downloading an app to your phone and credit cards and stuff. Be sure to read the fine print at the bottom of this page.

Jeremy Pugh :Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Web Editor. He covers culture, history, theater, the outdoors and whatever else we ask him to. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the forthcoming history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake" (Spring 2019, Reedy Press).