Six years ago, the Public Theater turned the seventh president of the United States into a rock star in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, a breakthrough show that later transferred to Broadway. Now the Public, best known for its Shakespeare productions, has done it again with Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s thrilling hip-hop bio-musical about another founding father, Alexander Hamilton. The same month that Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson opened at the Public, Miranda was at the White House for “An Evening of Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word,” at which he premiered a song from The Hamilton Mixtape, which he called “a concept album about the life of someone I think embodies hip-hop, Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. You laugh, but it’s true! He was born a penniless orphan in St. Croix of illegitimate birth, became George Washington’s right-hand man, became Treasury secretary, caught beef with every other founding father, and all on the strength of his writing.” Inspired by Ron Chernow’s massive 2004 biography of Hamilton, Miranda tells the story of Hamilton’s dramatic rise and fall as the determinedly ambitious orphan seeks to make a difference in the world. Miranda, whose In the Heights won Tonys for Best Musical and Best Score in 2008, once again teams with director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and musical director and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, with Miranda playing the title character with charm and gusto. On his journey, Hamilton meets up with future nemesis Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), the very serious General George Washington (Christopher Jackson), the fun-loving Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), the dubious Thomas Jefferson (Diggs) and his dour protégé, James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan), and the beautiful sisters Eliza and Angelica Schuyler (Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry, respectively), both of whom he has the hots for. Miranda follows Hamilton’s ascent as a major player in the American Revolution, a rise that is ultimately thwarted by sexual blackmail and a duel with Burr.
Hamilton explodes from the opening number, in which Miranda and company set the stage for what is to come, from Miranda’s almost-too-cool lyrics to David Korins’s wood-heavy set with a revolving center, from Paul Tazewell’s pristine period costumes to Lacamoire’s splendid orchestrations. “The ten-dollar founding father without a father / Got a lot farther by working a lot harder / By being a lot smarter / By being a self-starter,” Miranda declares. Miranda, who has also won an Emmy and a Grammy, glistens as Hamilton, eschewing any attempt to try to look like him — instead, he sports a mustache, goatee, and long black hair, sometimes put up in a ponytail — in favor of reaching deep inside to find what made the founding father tick. The show has several memorable set pieces, including a rap battle between Jefferson and Hamilton, a call for women’s rights led by the Schuyler sisters, and hysterical musical soliloquys by Jonathan Groff as King George that evoke The Rocky Horror Show. Exhilarating, endlessly energetic, and, yes, even educational, Hamilton is following in the footsteps of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, moving to Broadway on July 13. Advance tickets for the Public run are sold out, but a limited number of twenty-dollar seats are available through a daily lottery in the lobby.