'Hamilton' blows minds (and confuses some) at Orpheum Theatre

Pictured: Shoba Narayan, TaRea Campbell, Nyla Sostre

Pictured: Shoba Narayan, TaRea Campbell, Nyla Sostre Joan Marcus

Among the vast array of awards and superlatives bestowed upon Hamilton since its 2015 premiere — Tonys, Grammys, Kennedy Center Honors, a Weird Al Yankovic polka tribute — none resonates more than the words of Michelle Obama. "It was simply," she said, "the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life."


Orpheum Theatre

Hamilton is not just the greatest, but the most quintessential, artistic product of the Obama era. The visionary and complex musical, which recasts the United States founders as people of color, celebrates the nation's achievements while pointing out that they're historically inextricable from its profound injustices: a truth the nation's first African-American president also communicated. *Hamilton draws a line from the past to the present that points, with a mixture of hope and trepidation, toward the future.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's creation is such an important statement in the American conversation writ large that it seems almost incidental to observe that it also represents a watershed in the history of Broadway. The musical, as a genre, is the country's most significant contribution to the world stage, but the Great White Way has all too typically lived up to its name. The substance of Hamilton is also its style, and audiences have responded by making the show a cultural phenomenon unlike anything Broadway has ever seen.

That phenomenon has finally landed in Minneapolis, where Hamilton's Orpheum Theatre visit is being greeted with the kind of wild enthusiasm Minnesota hasn't seen since the Gorbachevs came to town. And yet, much of the audience at Friday's official opening night didn't seem quite to know what to make of the show itself.

The older white demographic that's generally well-represented at touring Broadway shows certainly wasn't going to miss this one, and from their conversations at intermission it was clear that many of them had never been asked to listen attentively and at length to rapped lyrics, nor had they obsessively streamed the original cast recording like many of Hamilton's millennial fans have. "Are you understanding this?" one woman from the former group asked her companion. He just looked up at the stage and kept blinking his eyes as if he couldn't quite process what he'd experienced.

Other attendees, though, seemed dazzled and energized, with good reason. Hamilton is a supremely entertaining show, a virtuoso creation with a nonstop score that romps in the common ground between hip-hop and showtunes. Director Thomas Kail's staging is equal to the composition's scope and depth, with Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography integral to the storytelling.

Today's Hamilton performers are still in the shadow of the already-legendary founding ensemble, but this touring cast is strong, with standouts including Shoba Narayan as a poignant Eliza and Nik Walker glorying in Aaron Burr's comic notes. As the title character, Joseph Morales is effective but understated. In Miranda's powerful vision, Alexander Hamilton is an underdog hero who stands for something much larger than himself: the unfinished American Revolution.