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Theater review: ‘Hamilton’ a magnificent tale of triumph and tragedy

Born out of wedlock on a tiny Caribbean island in the middle of the 18th century, Alexander Hamilton arrived on American shores with killer timing: It was 1772. The American Revolution was at hand.

By dint of his soaring intellect and vaulting ambition, he went on to help George Washington defeat the British and participate in the design of a miraculous new experiment in democracy. All the while, as we see in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s astonishing Broadway musical, “Hamilton,” the Founding Father led a personal life that was as dangerous and self-sabotaging as any present-day politician or hip-hop thug.

“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” asks his wife, Eliza, in the electric, Pulitzer Prize-winning spectacle that arrived at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre this week and runs through June 10. Because he was, maybe?

Before Hamilton (Austin Scott) is shot by arch-nemesis Aaron Burr (Nicholas Christopher), he will lust after his sister-in-law Angelica (Sabrina Sloan); engage in a lurid sex-and-blackmail scandal that humiliates his wife and wrecks his political career; and — in a scene that presages his own death — lose his son, Philip (Ruben J. Carbajal).

And yet, after all the hubris and vanity, the comparisons to Icarus, the allusions to Macbeth (I would add Julius Caesar), he remains a profoundly honorable and courageous man.

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Before “Hamilton,” which I recently caught on Broadway and saw again Wednesday night, I didn’t know it was possible to sit for three hours in a state of catharsis, choking back tears. Michelle Obama once remarked that the rhyming rap musical was the finest work of art she had ever witnessed “in any form.”

Now I know why.

As directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, this national tour lacks some of the immediacy of the New York production. (After all, Hamilton died in Greenwich Village and is buried at Trinity Church, not far from the Manhattan show.) The balletic numbers aren’t as intricately configured nor as rigorously danced as they currently are at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The exhilarating boom-boom urgency of “Right Hand Man” (“rise up!”) and “My Shot,” Hamilton’s double-entendre about sacrificing oneself for a political cause, is not as thunderous.

And though it took me a few minutes to recover from a seating snafu that caused me to watch the opening number from the back of the Fox in a near-panic state, recover I did, thanks to this mostly top-notch cast.

Scott’s Hamilton is charismatic and regal, while Christopher’s Burr becomes a tormented figure who arouses our sympathy. (It doesn’t hurt that the actor has a gorgeous singing voice.) As dressed by costume designer Paul Tazewell, Eliza Hamilton (the lovely Julia K. Harriman) and her sister Angelica strike the painterly silhouettes of Goya and Ingres.

Carvens Lissaint’s George Washington is a towering figure of national patrimony: He’s the father symbol to almost-sibling rivals Burr and Hamilton, who recall Cain and Abel, Judas and Christ. Peter Matthew Smith plays King George as spoiled and infantilized: a diminutive, red-cloaked crowned head who regards America like a spurned lover and trills about it in songs that echo the Beatles and “Hedwig” (“You’ll Be Back”).

Chris De’Sean Lee, who plays the Marquis de Lafayette and Francophile Thomas Jefferson, seems a little quirky for both roles, though his take on the characters becomes more focused as the story progresses.

Whatever their differences, which were irreconcilably outsize in scope, Hamilton and Burr loved their children inviolably, and Scott and Christopher sing about their parallel hopes for their young ones, and their newly birthed nation, in the hauntingly beautiful “Dear Theodosia.”

The rupture of Hamilton’s relationship with Eliza is poignantly described in “Burn,” in which she sifts through and destroys his letters. “I am erasing myself from the narrative; let future historians wonder how Eliza reacted when you broke her heart.”

There are many such moments in this tragic meditation on triumph and loss, sorrow and despair, perseverance and redemption. If not for Miranda, this fascinating figure might remain little more than a face on a $10 bill. Now, plucked from the vaults of history, he is a hero for the ages, every bit as fraught and complicated as the nation he toiled for.

In that regard, this deeply resonant, magisterial tale makes it clear how much work we still have to do.

THEATER REVIEW

“Hamilton”

Though June 10. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. $245-$645 (for premium tickets). There is a four-ticket limit per order. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org. During digital daily lotteries, 40 tickets will be sold for every show for $10 each. Visit hamiltonmusical.com/lottery for details.

Bottom line: Don’t lose your shot!

Behind-scenes tour of Fox Theatre’s Marquee Club

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