Rewind your mind to a time when America was less a country than a concept, a wild surmise birthed in bloodshed and steeped in dreams of sweet freedom.
And then consider the unlikely triumph wrought by a “ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower,” as the electrifying musical “Hamilton” (maybe you’ve heard of it?) describes those bold souls who fought and died to create the United States.
After that, of course, everything went just swimmingly — for the nation and for the show’s namesake, the orphan immigrant turned war hero and statesman Alexander Hamilton.
OK, sure, that might’ve been nice. Wouldn’t have made for much of a musical, though.
And the greatest accomplishment among many in writer-composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway-conquering show, whose national tour just hit the San Diego Civic Theatre, is in the way it paints Hamilton’s saga as emblematic of America’s own sublime feats and epic fails, its agonies and ecstasies — in his time and ours.
As portrayed by the gifted Austin Scott with both disarming charm and flashes of raw ferocity, Hamilton is brilliant and reckless, brash and helplessly rash, a visionary obsessed with his legacy but a little nearsighted when it comes to the here and now.
His mirror image and faithful frenemy is Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s comrade-in-arms turned rival. Burr is endlessly “politic, cautious and meticulous,” to borrow from T.S. Eliot, and the superb Ryan Vasquez (standing in skillfully for Nicholas Christopher on opening night) plays him with a wry, streetwise savvy that’s jaundiced by toxic jealousy.
The whole show becomes a kind of pas de doom between those two, as the pair hurtle toward their ultimate reckoning — the mortal recoil of Burr’s dueling pistol that will plant Hamilton in the soil at age 47.
Miranda’s music, drawing from hip-hop and jazz and R&B and more, is completely modern and yet utterly fitting for the vibrant, exciting, fertile times he evokes, when the likes of Hamilton and Burr and the Marquis de Lafayette (played with matchless, fast-rapping wit by Jordan Donica) are drinking buddies who dream of taking down British soldiers and hooking up with New York ladies, in more or less equal measure.
But good luck measuring up to the women of “Hamilton”: In the irresistible number “The Schuyler Sisters” (with its signature refrain, “Werk!”), Angelica Schuyler — destined to be the greatest love Hamilton never had — vows to make Thomas Jefferson put women in the sequel to his “all men are created equal” Declaration of Independence.
The show’s capable, multiracial company embodies the full spectrum of America the beautiful, and lends a deeply stirring sense of inclusivity, so that the line “Immigrants — we get the job done!,” voiced at the start of the thrilling “Yorktown,” lands like a natural and satisfying exclamation point to this story of a patriot who rose up as a poor refugee from the Caribbean.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Hamilton,” directed with crisp momentum by Thomas Kail, doesn’t pretend to perfect historical fidelity. But you want to believe George Washington was every bit as elegant and charismatic as Isaiah Johnson plays him here — introduced with a rock-star flourish on “Right Hand Man,” and later unleashing sweet, soulful vocals on the valedictory “One Last Time.”
You also kind of want to believe England’s King George III was as comically insufferable as the pitch-perfect Rory O’Malley portrays him — sauntering in to deliver the deliciously snippy breakup anthem “You’ll Be Back” and its reprises.
Donica’s take on Jefferson is also shot through with winningly audacious attitude, matched by Mathenee Treco’s turn as the tailor turned spy Hercules Mulligan and Rubén J. Carbajal’s work as the fervent young abolitionist John Laurens.
Raven Thomas (standing in for Julia K. Harriman) overcame some vocal flutters on opening night to bring affecting work as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler, on the fiery “Burn,” the quietly devastating “It’s Quiet Uptown” and the show’s bittersweet finale.
And Amber Iman, who plays the short-shrifted Schuyler sister Peggy, steps in later with a sultry torch-song turn as Maria Reynolds, whose tryst with Hamilton throws a huge twist into his ambitions.
Conductor Julian Reeve’s orchestra rolls deftly with the shifting styles, and Andy Blankenbuehler’s ever-restless choreography (on David Korins’ spare set) projects a feel of splintering alliances and battles both personal and political. Paul Tazewell’s sleek, colonial-meets-contemporary costumes also bridge then and now beautifully.
So, sure — “E pluribus unum,” y’all. But for my money (a stack of $10 Hamiltons, naturally), a new U.S. motto could be drawn from the two words Hamilton utters to Washington, with a little swagger and a sly smile, as they set off to create a nation:
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Jan. 28.
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.
Tickets: Sold out except for resale tickets, from the high $200s up. Lottery for $10 tickets at hamiltonmusical.com/lottery or via “Hamilton” mobile app (available free in Apple App or Google Play stores).
Phone: (619) 570-1100
MORE ‘HAMILTON’ COVERAGE