I love Mary Poppins.
So, when I heard a remake of the classic movie was in the works, I wondered why. How could anyone improve on the 1964 film? Then I heard Lin-Manuel Miranda had been cast, essentially in an updated version of the Dick Van Dyke role. And I was intrigued.
For those who’ve been living on Mars for the last few years, Miranda is the creative genius (and I don’t use that word lightly) behind the biggest of Broadway’s modern day musical hits, Hamilton, which tells the story of an orphaned immigrant who goes on to become one of America’s Founding Fathers. The then 35-year-old writer, actor and freestyle rapper not only created the musical, Miranda also starred in the original Broadway production from opening night in 2015 until stepping down in July 2016. (Celebrities flocked to the show. Miranda tells how he got sick once during that year, missing the night Beyoncé and Jay-Z were in the audience.)
Now, with the Hamilton phenomenon seemingly taking over the world, it is hard to believe it wasn’t always destined for the stage. Yet, after Miranda first read the Ron Chernow biography of Hamilton, the musical was originally conceived only as a mix-tape album of rap songs, and previewed at the White House. Now, Hamilton has become an award show-sweeping theatrical juggernaut. (16 Tonys—a record) There are multiple international touring companies, tickets sell out in seconds, and, finally, it’s in Austin, having made its first Texas stop in Houston back in 2018.
To say this production has been much anticipated by Central Texas would be an understatement. While there have been many richly memorable Broadway in Austin performances at Bass Concert Hall over the years, the unmitigated fan fervor building up to Hamilton is more typical of the burnt orange-clad crowds that have spilled into neighboring Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium during winning seasons for the University of Texas at Austin’s Longhorn football team.
After all the hype, how does the Austin production measure up? Well, we might not have had the charismatic Lin-Manuel Miranda on stage, however the sparkling national touring cast gave the packed theater audience every reason to leap to their feet for a standing ovation as the curtain closed Wednesday night.
From the opening bars of the anthem-like “Alexander Hamilton” — which gave us the first chance to gage the collective voices of the company along with many of the leading cast members — it was clear that the anticipation had been more than worth it.
We had the fleet of foot, silver-tongued Joseph Morales literally leaping to the occasion as Alexander Hamilton. Morales delivered his huge role with the same high energy from start to finish of what has to be an exhausting, action-packed performance that saw him go from a raw, young immigrant to passionate revolutionary to a chastened, yet never subdued, family man who fell victim to his own intellect.
And, we had the artful cavortings of Jon Patrick Walker as King George, who captivated the audience and stole the show for this writer with his three part-regal, part-bewildered cameos. A worthy close second in unexpectedly stealing the show was the larger than life Thomas Jefferson, played by Kyle Scatliffe (also taking on the role of Lafayette) who brought us Hamilton’s arch rival as an often flirty Founding Father with a future showboating in Vegas.
Financial legend that Hamilton has already become, seeing the ensemble dance numbers, including “The Room Where It Happens,” left little doubt that this 21st century hit will go on to rival Broadway classics such as West Side Story and Guys and Dolls.
The often irreverent lyrics, the drama of the storyline, the dramatic lighting, the sometimes downright raunchy costumes, the engrossing stagecraft of the actors made for a night that sped by; for a night that wrapped thousands of theater-goers together into one collective, spell-bound community; and for a night that brought magic to Austin, Texas.
As for this writer, I’m now totally in the spell of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. So, sorry. Must dash. I’m off to see Mary Poppins Returns!
If you have yet to buy your tickets for Hamilton in Austin, the limited engagement show runs through June 16. Find dates and tickets here. Savvy fans will also check TexasPerformingArts.org for late release seats at short notice. (Tickets will not be sold by phone.) And, don’t forget the #HAM4HAM ticket lottery.
Finally: Ticket Tips & Bags Beware
1. TexasPerformingArts.org and Bass Concert Hall are the ONLY authorized sources for Hamilton tickets in Austin. If you purchase tickets from any other source, they cannot guarantee your seat.
2. Austin’s Bass Concert Hall has a clear bag policy. Details here.
Cover: The company of the Hamilton national tour. Photo Joan Marcus
Austin-based Julie Tereshchuk is the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Lifestyle Magazine.