‘Hamilton’ heralds Milwaukee live theater return

October 21, 2021

By Jacquelyn D. Heath
Special to The Milwaukee Times

After a COVID-19 pandemic- enforced hiatus of more than 18 months from all things social and most things entertaining, live theater has returned to Milwaukee. And what a return it is.

One of the most celebrated modern musicals – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony, Grammy, Pulitzer and Kennedy Center Honors winning theatrical phenomenon Hamilton—is in Milwaukee for a two-week run through October 24, 2021 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

The two-act play tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, our country’s first Treasury Secretary, principle author of the Federalist Papers, and aide to general-turned-President George Washington.

Alexander Hamilton is the ultimate outsider turned political insider. Born on the Caribbean island of Nevis of questionable parentage, instead of the colonial planter- aristocratic background shared by many of the other Founding Fathers, Hamilton arrives in the revolutionary hotbed of New York City as a young man in the 1770’s, hoping to find his future as a war hero in the fledgling American Revolution. As a student at Kings College in New York, his considerable skills as a speaker and writer bring him attention from some revolutionary heavyweights – including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, French ally the Marquis de Lafayette, and eventual rival Aaron Burr. Burr and Hamilton are considered for a position as a top assistant to General George Washington; Hamilton is chosen over Burr, and the seeds of envy are planted.

Hamilton also meets wealthy financier Philip Schuyler, whose three daughters typify the role of 18th Century women – which was primarily as helpmates and hostesses to their spouses. Alexander’s wit and brains catch the eye and win the heart of Eliza Schuyler and they are married.

After the colonists win their war for independence against the British, they set about the business of nation- building. They choose George Washington as their first President, and one of the first popularly elected heads of state in a world filled with birthright monarchs and royal dynasties. Washington again picks Hamilton – this time as Treasury Secretary and a principal confidante, while Burr once again is left on the sidelines. Burr joins forces with future presidents Jefferson, Madison and Adams in an alliance to discredit Hamilton. Unfortunately, Alexander doesn’t do himself any favors when he enters into an extramarital affair with a married woman, thus creating a source of blackmail for his political rivals.

Hamilton leaves government when John Adams is elected to succeed Washington as President, but returns to endorse former adversary Thomas Jefferson for president in 1800. This alliance drives an additional wedge between Hamilton and Aaron Burr. He challenges Hamilton to defend his personal and political honor in a duel. As the saying goes, “the rest is history.”

Playwright Miranda has said he developed this play “about America then as told by America now.” The most noticeable attribute supporting that premise is the multicultural cast portraying the all-white slate of Founding Fathers. As a musical featuring 42 songs as the primary storytelling device, he also chose to bring life to the story with a combination of modern musical genres, including hip-hop, rock, and R&B, as well as more traditional sounding Broadway- style show tunes. The ensemble cast, led by Edred Utomi as Alexander Hamilton, Josh Tower as Aaron Burr, and Zoe Jensen as Eliza Schuyler Hamilton kept the audience focused as they inhabited their characters to bring history to life. A slice of comedic interlude was contributed by Peter Matthew Smith as King George III of Britain, coming off much like a jilted lover when the colonials marched on to victory in the war for independence and made headway building a new nation – without his blessing.

Hamilton’s energy and high-quality performance is just the ticket to lift Milwaukee theater out of its long imposed break, as well as make history fans out of its audience. You will definitely want to make time for this local artistic renaissance and “be in the room where it happens.”

Hamilton is playing through October 24, 2021 in evening and matinee performances at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202. For more information and ticket availability, call (414) 273-7121; or visit www.marcuscenter.org.