Today I will shine a spotlight on the team behind the most groundbreaking musical of all time.
For the past month, our world has been reeling from the release of the pop culture juggernaut Hamilton on Disney+. If you haven’t dabbled in it yourself, this three-hour musical epic tells the story of America’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, a bastard immigrant who wrote his way to one of the highest seats in American government. The film was shot back in 2016, with much of the show’s original cast. While Hamilton is truly extraordinary in every possible way, there are five powerhouse stars who I feel provide it with the magic to impact audiences of all ages. This handful of actors have the talent and the musical prowess to command a stage, and deliver a performance that is consistently worthy of Hamilton‘s praise. Today I will shine a spotlight on these stars, and hopefully you will walk away with a deeper respect for the team behind the most groundbreaking musical of all time.
Starting off with perhaps the most well-known character in Hamilton‘s lineup, George Washington, Chris Jackson brings a certain beaming presence to the inaugural president that many performers before him have not so easily portrayed. With society’s view of the man who made America deeply rooted in our minds, it’s hard to come in, shake things up, and ask a global audience to frame that view through a lens of reality. However, whether it’s a testament to Christopher Jackson’s talent or Hamilton’s brilliant writing, the method in which Washington is conveyed onstage makes him seem almost… approachable. While his introduction in “Right Hand Man” is undoubtedly grandiose and intense, he slowly shifts throughout the musical to become more of a somber father figure. From a self-proclaimed reckless general to the father of a nation, his secondary storyline grips the viewer until he chooses to step away in “One Last Time.” Washington’s character on stage would be nothing, of course, without Christopher Jackson tenderly shaping him in such a way that he melds father figure and unshakeable leader together seamlessly. Not to mention his incredible voice – which has taken him across Broadway and film – belting out Hamilton‘s show-stopping ballads and deepest pieces of advice alike. Perhaps the most endearing aspect of Jackson’s performance, however, is the chemistry between him and the show’s creator-turned-star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Their musical lives together, from In The Heights to Hamilton, have showcased their relationship and promoted their onstage growth, culminating in this most recent masterpiece. It is a beautiful joy to watch from start to finish.
One of Hamilton’s most underrated performers, Daveed Diggs is the first person that comes to mind when I think of “magic.” Not only is he the sole man on this list who plays two characters throughout the show, but his chosen characters are the most vibrant, near-obnoxious roles in the musical. While I say obnoxious, this isn’t to undermine the performances or their importance to the story. On the contrary, both men – Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson – bring the aforementioned magic through their boisterous personas. Lafayette fights for French freedom from the frontlines of American battlefields. He and Hamilton meet during the war and become fast friends alongside John Laurens and Hercules Mulligan. Daveed Diggs supplies Lafayette with the French charm and uncanny accent he so requires, and from there the magic just bleeds onto the stage every second he’s around. Whether Lafayette is jumping off of tables while setting Broadway rap records or preaching about the importance of immigrants through one of Hamilton’s most iconic lines, he is guaranteed to be a favorite of the viewing crowd. In Act 2, Daveed opens the show with Jefferson’s introduction, and while his French skin may be shed for this alter ego, the symbolic magic continues as he literally hops around on stage, high-kicking, and basking in the approval of a captivated audience. While Jefferson may be portrayed as a sort of villain in Hamilton’s timeline, there’s no denying he’s a pleasure to watch as Diggs instills a sort of Joker-esque flamboyant fear in those around him. He frowns on Hamilton’s unorthodox methods of governing and does his best to keep the mockery at bay. All the while, however, you can’t help but smile as Jefferson grows ever angrier and confused by the country’s political direction until the very end. Daveed Diggs’s growing career offstage is a testament to his adaptability and comedic talent, which adds a certain beauty to Hamilton.
The Schuyler Sisters
Some may consider this cheating, but when talking about The Schuyler Sisters, it seems near impossible to assess them on their own. That’s not because they don’t shine on their own, but much to the contrary, their unique independent voices and talent bring a glorious balance to the trio as a whole. Beginning with Eliza, played by the refreshingly innocent Phillipa Soo, who tells the story of Hamilton once he lives on. Arguably deemed the real hero of this tragedy by some, Eliza’s emotion keeps Alexander grounded throughout the show, and her actions speak louder than any words he could ever think up. Phillipa’s powerhouse vocals take Eliza’s delicate tunes and pack an expertly unexpected punch. We now move on to Renee Elise Goldsberry’s character, the eldest sister, Angelica. With her quick wit and lust for something more out of life, Angelica provides a sort of conflict to Alexander as the story unfolds. Nearly matching the man in terms of intellectual quality and propensity for risk-taking, Alex always has her on his mind, which leaves a bizarre love triangle looming over the two. Renee elicits big sister energy unlike anyone I’ve ever seen on stage, and she not only empowers siblings everywhere to be better, but she also raises the torch high for women in politics and beyond. As for Peggy? Well, all I need to say is Jasmine Cephas Jones deserves more recognition for her ability to shift between naïve young girl to scandalous seductress in no time at all. She portrays both Peggy and Maria Reynolds perfectly to their necessary restraints, and her voice added to the trio of sisters brings about a new gold standard of vocals in Broadway. You simply cannot have one without the others when describing this musical marvel.
What can be said about Jonathan Groff that hasn’t already? When talking with many Hamilton newcomers – thanks to Disney+ – I’ve heard an immeasurable abundance of love for Groff’s performance as King George III. As mentioned before in interviews and such, there truly is no need for King George to make an appearance in this musical. The story flows just fine without him, and he has no real pull on the action at hand. However, without the mad king’s flair and flamboyancy breaking up the action throughout, a large opportunity would have been missed. Sure, it’s a fascinating concept to focus on the viewpoint of England as America is born. The opinions shared by King George provide a larger perspective on the events we all know from history. On top of this, it’s a delightful display to see him sing such jaunty tunes about such horrible deeds, and utilizing an outdated pop sound in contrast to the overarching rap stylings makes for a pleasingly jarring tonal shift. However, the biggest opportunity at Hamilton’s disposal is the use of Broadway darling Jonathan Groff as the maniacal ruler. Few others stand up to the level of charisma this man has, and when he’s put on stage with as much raw talent as Hamilton outputs, he feels right at home. It’s a shame he doesn’t get more screen time with the other cast members, however, his solo stints are so playfully devious you couldn’t tear yourself away if you tried. He plays up to the audience more than I’d ever imagined, and that moment where he spits all over himself but keeps singing- true, original talent. Many actors have tried to fill the King’s shoes since, but none can supply the same terrifying charm as Jonathan Groff.
Leslie Odom Jr.
Now comes my absolute favorite part of Hamilton: the real hero, Aaron Burr. I’ve always toted Burr as the true star of the show, watching all the action play out, and in his final moments on stage, taking the spotlight from the one we were all focused on. His presence is not unlike that of Judas in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, what with the omniscient narration and his involvement in nearly every scene – regardless of historical accuracy. But what makes Burr so enjoyable of a character is not his array of brilliant show-stopping numbers or his ability to direct the show from the stage, but it’s the emotional journey you’re taken on through Hamilton’s captivating script, and the effect that tale has on the viewer. Undoubtedly, Aaron Burr serves as the perfect foil to Alexander Hamilton in every sense of the word. He’s just as strong, charming, and intelligent as the titular scholar, however, his fondness for rationality over what he considers to be reckless is what sets the two apart, and it’s also what ultimately brings about his downfall. When Burr allows pride to get the better of him, he winds up bringing his closest friend’s life to an end, shattering his reputation and writing himself into the history books column of villainy for all time. As Burr describes it through the modern-day Shakespearean text, time has told his story in a negative light because of his actions. But thanks to Hamilton, his story is told through a more forgiving lens, and he’s finally given a chance to speak for himself. Couple this with the jaw-dropping showmanship of Leslie Odom Jr. (or really any man who has stepped into the role of Burr thus far), and you’re given one of Broadway’s most tragically gripping narratives.
Initially, I’d intended to make a sixth (surprise!) mention to provide kudos to Thayne Jasperson. The longest-lasting original lead cast member of Hamilton, this man has lent his talent to the roles of Samuel Seabury and sometimes King George until Broadway’s shutdown in March of this year. While the role of Seabury itself isn’t exactly demanding, being an ensemble member in this company certainly is. Which brings me to the real sixth important member of Hamilton’s team: the ensemble. Now, one could argue the ensemble is important in any stage show, and this would absolutely be correct. Contrary to popular belief, the background members of a cast are not to be shamed or forgotten. Their roles – while most of the time unnamed or uncredited – provide a musical with its texture. A crowd of people grounds a show in reality, which makes scenes feel more relatable. An ensemble’s chorus adds depth to a song and sometimes shifts a musical’s score from forgettable to everlasting. In short, the ensemble is never to be considered “lesser” than the actors in the front. That being said, Hamilton takes the concept of an ensemble and pumps their role full of life and creativity, resulting in a spectacular experience unlike any other. In Hamilton, the ensemble cast members not only provide backing vocals and some more fodder to look at. Nay, Hamilton’s ensemble brings each scene to life, by utilizing choreography as props, scenery, and plot devices. From the enormous dance numbers like “Yorktown” and “My Shot” to the demanding blocking of “Hurricane” and “The World Was Wide Enough,” Hamilton’s ensemble tells a story through their physical motion. These cast members – alongside the aforementioned performers on this list – portray a country coming together in the face of adversity. They all mesh together to build a show that is as complex and wonderful as the initial spark of America’s spirit.
From Hamilton’s book to its score, to its choreography, to the men and women who tell this story all around the world – the show’s success relies on every moving part working in tandem to create something truly special, and now Disney+ brings that inspirational magic home.