I was lucky enough to be able to fly to Chicago this past weekend to see the incredible cast of their production of Hamilton. Having seen the show in New York more than a few times, I felt very strongly about the casting choices in Chicago and haven't been able to stop talking about them since I got home. These are my thoughts about each actor in their respective roles.
Miguel Cervantes (Alexander Hamilton)
I must admit, I went into the show with relatively low expectations for him. From what I had seen and heard, he wasn't anything special. Boy was I wrong. Cervantes' charisma on that stage is palpable, and his portrayal honestly reminded me of that of original cast member Lin-Manuel Miranda, which is really saying something, especially coming from me. His voice is great, his energy is infectious, and he makes you truly believe that he is young, scrappy, and hungry.
Joseph Morales (Hamilton alternate)
I was lucky enough to see the show twice on my trip, once with the original cast and once with Joseph Morales as Hamilton. In my opinion, his portrayal ranks only slightly below that of Cervantes. Morales' acting started a bit stiff and awkward for me but by the fourth song or so, I was sold. He's the youngest looking Hamilton I've seen which really gave him that youthful energy that Hamilton is so well known for, and I really enjoyed seeing him portrayed that way.
Joshua Henry (Aaron Burr)
I've had the honor (pun intended) of seeing quite a few talented Burrs, all very different in their portrayals. But Henry's definitely stands out to me as the most intense. From the moment he takes the stage and speaks the first lines of the show, the look in his eyes and urgency in his voice is present. He makes an extremely relatable Burr, one I found myself laughing with and crying with by the end of the show.
Ari Afsar (Eliza Schuyler-Hamilton)
She is another who I went in with low expectations of. I try not to form opinions based upon what I hear before I actually experience an actor in a role, but there was a lot of negativity surrounding Afsar's performance that I couldn't help but listen to. However, that completely changed when I saw her. She's is an incredibly charming and sweet Eliza, with a huge smile on her face from the moment she steps onstage. What really sold me on her portrayal, though, was her character development. The difference in Afsar's Eliza between Helpless and Burn was breathtaking, and truly unlike anything I've seen from any other Eliza.
Karen Olivo (Angelica Schuyler)
I can't say enough about Karen Olivo. She was made for this role. Everything from the intensity of her acting, to her rich and controlled voice, to her unparalleled signature Angelica sass, was spot on. Seeing her in this role just made sense. It was like I was watching Angelica Schuyler on that stage, no questions asked. I will sing Olivo's praises in this role for the rest of my life.
Jonathan Kirkland (George Washington)
The praises had to stop sometime. Don't get me wrong, there was nothing glaringly bad about Kirkland's performance. His presence was there 100%, although that could just be due to his height, especially next to Cervantes who is just over five feet tall. I was not completely sold on his voice for this role, however. The man undoubtedly has talent but the tone of his voice didn't carry the same strength and power as Washingtons I've seen in the past. That being said, the physical portrayal is there, his acting is strong, and he definitely looks the part.
Chris Lee (Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson)
Lee was undoubtedly a standout to me in this production. Having seen some not-so-great portrayals of this track in New York following the departure of original cast member Daveed Diggs, I was beginning to lose hope. Lee restored that hope. He has so much energy and charisma, and he's the first person I've seen who can rap Guns and Ships even remotely closely to how Diggs does. He makes the role his own, and doesn't try to copy anyone else's portrayal. Overall, he is one of my favorites in the cast by far.
Jose Ramos (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton)
Is it a pre-requisite that all Laurens/Philips are the cutest people in the cast? Ramos is adorable, he makes a lovable Laurens and believably naive Philip. His passion is there, and he balances the lovability with the intensity required for both sides of the track. I found myself really routing for both his Laurens and his Philip, even though I knew how both stories would end.
Wallace Smith (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison)
I was very excited to see Smith in this role, having seen him play Enjolras in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables multiple times a couple of years ago. His voice was just as strong and unique as I had remembered, and absolutely perfect for Mulligan and Madison. His Mulligan was slightly more subued than that of original cast member Okieriete Onaodowan, but his Madison was perfectly stoic and an ideal match for Chris Lee's Jefferson.
Samantha Ware (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds)
Ware's Peggy was a bit more strong-willed and persistant, and less cutesy than others I have seen, but it worked for her. I enjoyed seeing a Peggy with a bit more substance and strength, rather than watching her get unapologetically pushed aside. Samantha's portrayal of Maria oozed sex appeal, as she should. She is an ideal seductress and made Hamilton's defeated willpower in Say No To This definitely believable.
Alexander Gemignani (King George III)
What a refreshing take on this role! Having only seen the Broadway portrayals of King George, I was so used to seeing the same thing over and over again. I had become bored of this character and his repetitive songs. Gemignani's George was entirely different. He made the role his own, added some new quirks that were very fun to see for the first time, and actually made me look forward to his three songs both times I saw the production.