By Mary Damiano
Four years after Hamilton first came to Broward Center, I was finally in the room where it happened.
It’s rare that any cultural phenomenon lives up to its hype, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s epic musical Hamilton does. It’s not just a show, it’s an experience. On opening night at a pre-show dinner at Chimney House, my companion and I were seated next to a table of Schuyler sisters—not the actresses who play Hamilton’s wife Eliza, and her sisters, Angelica and Peggy, but a trio of Hamilton devotees dressed in colonial garb, each gown in the pastel of the corresponding Schuler sister. Hamilton isn’t just a show people dress up for, it’s a show they dress up as, and that’s unusual outside of Disney shows and Wicked.
Edred Utomi and Josh Tower. Photo by Joan Marcus
My first visual of Hamilton was when the cast delivered a dazzling, thrilling performance at the 2016 Tony Awards. I watched it on Disney + when it premiered July 3, 2020, with my Hamilton-inspired dinner, a biscuit with baked ham, American cheese, and carmelized onions, and a red, white, and blue dessert of blueberries—they’re the state fruit of New Jersey—topped with whipped cream and a raspberry.
But none of that compares with seeing Hamilton live. From the first song, “Hamilton”, which tells our hero’s backstory, to the last pure, transcendent moment, Hamilton is a linguistic marvel, a hip history lesson, an electrifying experience.
The bulk of Hamilton takes place from 1776 to 1804 and is bookended by Alexander Hamilton’s first meeting with Aaron Burr and his last, during which Burr shoots Hamilton in a fateful duel in New Jersey. In the 28 years in between, the American Revolution is fought and won, the United States of America is born, and Hamilton, an orphan from the Caribbean, establishes himself as a brilliant statesman, economist, and founding father. And although the saying goes that history is written by the victor, Hamilton has a musical and is on the ten-dollar bill, while Burr, a vice-president, is remembered for killing Hamilton and a milk commercial.
Edred Utomi is a compelling Hamilton, and deftly portrays each part of Hamilton’s journey, from an ambitious but unsure young man looking for guidance to a wise, weary man haunted by loss. Alysha Deslorieux portrays Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife. The two have real chemistry and their on-stage love story feels genuine. Deslorieux has a lovely voice, and her performance, especially on songs like “Burn”, is gorgeous. The final scene of the show, including that last, breathtaking moment, belongs to her. Because everybody knows from history and the first song in the show that Aaron Burr shoots Hamilton, Burr is a villain from the get-go, and Josh Tower plays him as an over-confident cock-of-the-walk. But his villain shows several shades of complexity, especially on “Theodosia”, in which he pledges his devotion to his newborn daughter. It’s a beautiful moment.
The rest of the cast is equally excellent—this is a show with very high standards, and there are no weak links in the chain. Standouts on this tour include Carvens Lissaint as Washington, whose performance of his final song, “One Last Time”, is spine-tingling, especially the last note, which garnered thunderous applause from the opening night audience; David Park as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, who portrays his characters with swagger and humor; and Bryson Bruce as King George, who brings considerable comedy to his three appearances, singing arguably the most earworm-worthy tune in a musical full of memorable refrains.
Kudos to the sound at Broward Center, which is so pristine it allows the audience to hear every word, crucial to Hamilton, as the musical is almost entirely sung and rapped.
Watching Hamilton on Disney + is fine, and you do get to see the original cast. But it does not, cannot, compare with seeing the most influential musical of our time live and in person. Do whatever you can to get to Broward Center to see Hamilton and be in the room where it happens.
Hamilton runs through December 11 at Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. For tickets and more information, visit BrowardCenter.org