“Hamilton,” a new rap musical about the life and times of founding father Alexander Hamilton, written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights”) and now receiving its world premiere at the Public Theater, has been more eagerly anticipated than any other show this season.
So anticipated, in fact, that the question for industry pundits has become not whether but when it will transfer from downtown to Broadway.
Having finally seen “Hamilton” for myself, I can report that it’s dynamic and smart but hardly a masterwork – at least not yet. In its current form, it is raw, overstuffed as a narrative and far too long (just under three hours).
Hamilton (portrayed by Miranda with sensitivity) is seen rising from penniless New York immigrant, to Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War, to outspoken figure behind the country’s political and economic formation, to the tragic victim of a duel with Aaron Burr.
Unlike “In the Heights,” where rapping was mixed with great pop songs, “Hamilton” is comprised primarily of rap. In spite of the witty wordplay, it gets tiresome after a while.
The actors, though vibrant, seem to just be playing themselves. It’s as if Miranda and his pals decided one day to dramatize Hamilton’s life in a hip-hop idiom, just for fun. They’d honor the facts but play by their own freewheeling rules.
Key historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are played by African-American actors, which is completely in synch with Miranda’s contemporized concept.
It moves quickly between various historical incidents, with little time to pause. In the end, you feel like you’ve experienced a rambling Wikipedia article read aloud to a rap beat rather than a carefully integrated musical based on famous historical figures, like say “1776.”
Rather than rush “Hamilton” to Broadway, Miranda and director Thomas Kail ought to catch their breath and consider how the show can be reworked while retaining its special qualities.
If you go: “Hamilton” plays at the Public Theater through May 3. 425 Lafayette St., publictheater.org.