Once in a while, a musical becomes cool, not just for the nerdy Broadway types, but as a pop culture sensation. It’s happened with Rent, Wicked, The Book of Mormon, and since it premiered on Broadway in 2015, Hamilton has been everywhere — from classrooms to the HBO comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Hamilton opened in Eugene Tuesday, Sept. 13, in the Hult Center’s Silva Concert Hall. The next night was media night, and the entire EW editorial staff showed up to see it performed to a packed house. Based on the wave of applause when the lights went out — and the people singing along in the crowd — the audience was excited for Hamilton. The musical has three productions touring the U.S., and of those the “And Peggy” cast are performing in Eugene through Sunday, Sept. 25. Here’s what we thought about the musical.
Henry Houston, news editor, arts aficionado: Before going to Hamilton in Eugene, the only production of the play I’d ever seen was what Disney+ ran on July 4, 2020. It was good to see stars from the original cast (as a musical fan, I always default to the Broadway cast for my preference, especially when choosing Julie Andrews’ My Fair Lady over Audrey Hepburn’s). But after watching it at the Hult, I realized that it wasn’t the play’s fault that I felt lukewarm to what I had watched on TV — TV just can’t capture the rock show-like qualities of Hamilton.
I’m not a huge fan of Alexander Hamilton. I know part of the reason for the musical is to elevate the public knowledge of Hamilton and his role as a Founding Father in forming the country, but I’ve always felt that his contributions had been overshadowed for good reasons. But Hamilton is so riveting that contrarian views on the person the musical is based on don’t matter. The choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler) is mesmerizing, keeping your eyes glued to the stage. The set design (David Korins), though not as lavish or gimmicky as The Lion King, is still elaborate and the light design (Howard Binkley) amplifies the show to rock show qualities.
But in the end, it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songbook that has made the musical a pop culture hit. A good musical can have a couple songs that run through your head after the curtain call. Hamilton has several ear wormy hits that will ingrain themselves into your brain for at least a few days after the show. Yet part of my aversion toward this musical has been because of Miranda and his whiny singing voice in original Broadway cast recordings. Thankfully, the performance by Deaundre’ Woods doesn’t try to mimic Miranda and performs Hamilton’s pieces with vocal depth and body.
If there’s one thing I’m glad the Eugene production remained close with the Disney+ production, it’s the portrayal of King George III (Rick Negron). Negron portrays the king with all of the necessary self-righteousness that provides comic relief, singing in a more traditional Broadway manner than the rabble rousing Founding Fathers’ hip hop. It’s too bad the newly crowned King Charles III isn’t as cool as Hamilton’s King George.
Camilla Mortensen, editor in chief who falls asleep at the symphony but likes musicals: Hamilton is the second time I have had the good fortune to see a show performed first in Chicago and then later in Eugene. Chicago was the first place Hamilton was produced after its Broadway premiere, and was also where I was entranced and amused by The Book of Mormon. I am no expert on musicals — my big exposure to musical theater was my mom playing the soundtrack to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express on endless repeat on tape in the car in the 1980s. (Starlight Express was basically about a bunch of singing trains having a race, if that tells you anything.)
When I saw Book of Mormon for the second time, my first reaction was that while the set was the same, the singers were not the singers — the acting and voices were so different from what I had previously experienced that it took me a minute to settle in. But I soon forgot and enjoyed what was in front of me. I expected no different from Hamilton.
The set, the costumes, those were the same. The singing and acting? The performers made them their own.
They, too, were nothing like the Chicago cast, but they made it so much their own I didn’t have that, “Well he’s not singing it the way the other guy did,” moment.
And like when I was in Chicago, I absolutely loved watching the audience love the show. A far cry from the current (absolutely idiotic) furor over a Black woman playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and perhaps because Hamilton has been part of popular culture since 2015, there was no one missing the point and arguing over whether Washington could be Black or if Alexander Hamilton could digress in hip-hop lyrics. Instead there was the kid in front of me quietly singing along and folks laughing at the pomposity of King George III before he even broke into song.
Go, watch it. Sing along if you know the lyrics and if you don’t then definitely read the plot or even just a summary of Hamilton’s life as it makes the action easier to follow (c’mon, it’s history, you can’t say it’s a spoiler).
Dan Buckwalter, calendar editor, symphony lover: I have always been struck by the robust yet finely controlled energy — not to mention the pure endurance — of opera singers and musical theater performers.
They are artists, yes, but they are athletes, too. This is what makes these performers so fun to watch. Not for the first time, I was reminded of this Sept. 14 when a crew from EW gathered for a grand production of Hamilton at the Hult Center.
From the characters of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson (an over-the-top portrayal from Paris Nix that was my favorite), to the heart-felt renderings of love and loss from the Schuyler sisters (Eliza and Angelica), the cast of Hamilton raced “Non-Stop” (the song that ends Act I) for almost three hours through the personal history of this country’s least-known founder as well as this nation’s stilted start.
Hamilton leaves no social stone unturned. There are the references to slavery, classism and other ills that remain with us. Also, no one can help but note the back room political games and the naked ambitions for power that plague us to this day.
Yet Hamilton tells the story of the man played by Deaundre’ Woods (who was the country’s first secretary of treasury) and the early United States with a rap vibrancy that keeps you glued to the very end.
It’s exhausting for the audience (I lost “My Shot” — another song from Act 1 — the next day because I was so tired), but the cast, I’m sure, will be back for more powerful performances at the Hult Center.
It was fun, and I’m glad I was able to attend.
Bob Keefer, arts editor: It’s always a challenge for me to enjoy a show after being told for years how dazzlingly brilliant it is. High expectations have doomed more than one theater experience for me, but Hamilton is not among the victims. From the moment the house lights fell and the music began, I was weirdly entranced by the unrelentingly fast pace and gorgeous staging of this slice of American history, retold. High points: the choreography and spirited but disciplined dancing on a beautiful, interesting set; the intricate interplay between frenemies Hamilton and Burr; the comic interludes with King George; and the suffocating sadness of a couple tragic deaths. Low points: Hardly any. I could have used a quieter song or two to ease the pace of the evening; seeing a hard-driving show that lasts nearly three hours is exhausting, even when it’s fun. Go see it while it’s in town.
Students, educators, military and first responders can buy tickets the day of for $29! Purchase the tickets online and pick them up at Will Call with a valid ID. Use code ELIZA to purchase your rush tickets today! For more information, contact the Hult Center Box Office at 541-682-5000. Check back daily for availability. Not applicable to previous purchases.
This article has been updated.