Critical Review

Student round table discussion at 900 HennepinCritical Review is a rigorous writing program that aims to develop critical thinking skills through arts journalism. Students attend and review productions through Hennepin Theater Trust’s Broadway Season and participate in workshops led by experts in the fields of musical theater, writing and journalism. Student reviews are edited for content and style, discussed with program leaders, and posted through an online portal. Internet access is a requirement to participate. This program is offered free of cost to participants thanks to the generous underwriting of Fred and Ann Moore.

Application closes: September 24, 2023

Critical Review Application

Hamilton is Happenin’
by Gabby Haake

When my sister went through an infamous Hamilton phase, I was not impressed. After seeing it live at the Orpheum however, I have entered a Hamilton phase myself. Immediately after watching, I wrote this review like I was running out of time. Set in the late 1700s when Alexander Hamilton had an impact on many aspects of America as well as important American figures like George Washington, Hamilton tells the story of his life and career while highlighting love, allyship, betrayal, drama, and history. Featuring incredible songs, performances, and technical elements, Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton does not disappoint.

Seeing Hamilton is a superior experience, partly due to the audience. One thing about the audience for Hamilton; it’ll be mostly made up of hardcore fans. This means an interactive, enthusiastic audience, which always contributes to the experience. I loved hearing the audience roar when Hamilton, portrayed by Bryson Bruce, first entered on stage, and the roar that came everytime King George, played by Peter Matthew Smith, entered on stage.

Hamilton does not contain the typical showtunes you’re used to. Instead, it contains lots of rap-style music, as well as heartfelt and soulful ballads. Even if you don’t consider yourself a rap music fan, I’m sure you’ll find beauty in the soundtrack arranged by Lin Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire. It displays a present day adaptation to the very historic story, in a way that is entertaining and extremely catchy. Also, music is continuous throughout the show, so songs often include an introduction to the setting of the scene following an impeccable transition melody.

While listening, it wasn’t hard to tell that the cast was an extremely talented group. Music director Kat Sherrell and other music staff involved are responsible for allowing the cast’s harmonies and dynamics to thrive. I often received chills down my back (in the best way) during large group numbers when their sound would fill the auditorium. I can still hear the final musical number in my head, and quite frankly hope it never leaves.

Several actors’ individual talents were highlighted as well. Deejay Young as Aaron Burr blew me away with his impressive riff capabilities. Carvens Lissaint as George Washington was also hitting those runs! His talent wasn’t showcased to its full potential until his last song which is unfortunate, but also the perfect note to leave off on.

Hamilton was visually brilliant as well. The choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler was dazzling when brought to stage. Sometimes the ensemble simply stole the show with their intricate, synchronized dancing that never failed to match the vibe of the scene. This made the show much more captivating, which when paired with the timeless music and talented soloists, made for a heavenly combination!

The most note-worthy factor that contributed to the visuals throughout the musical was the lighting. Spotlights flashing on just the right characters, at just the right times, in just the right colors and shapes! The variety of lighting always helped set the scene and looked glorious from the point of view of the audience thanks to lighting designer Howell Binkley.

So here I am, in my Hamilton phase. And I’m not ashamed! Hamilton provides a unique, inspiring experience that is guaranteed to impress anyone who appreciates music, choreography, and technical elements.


  • To develop and enhance critical thinking, self-expression and analytical writing skills
  • To provide a unique and engaging forum for students learning outside of the classroom
  • To provide high school students the opportunity to develop an appreciation for live theater

Elements of the program

  • Participants see up to eight live theater performances, often touring Broadway productions, at the Orpheum, State or Pantages theatres and write reviews
  • Opportunity to review press materials provided to the professional media
  • Workshops with professionals in the theater and journalism fields
  • Tour of one of the Trust’s historic theatres
  • Student reviews posted on the Hennepin Theatre Trust website and Spotlight’s Critical Review  reviewer site

What participants are saying:

“I LOVE Critical Review so much! Going to see all of those plays was so amazing. I really appreciate what the program has done for me.”
-Diamond Billinger, Critical Review student

Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best performances I have seen this year, tied with Wicked and Spring Awakening. There is no one better than Chaim Topol to tell the classic story of family hardship and change.”
-Sara Sommers,  Critical Review student

“I have loved Rent ever since I saw the movie. Being able to see the stage version with two of the original cast members was beyond amazing. It was so much fun and definitely an experience I’ll always remember.”
-Alicia Battle, Critical Review student

The 2022-2023 program included students from 23 high schools around Minnesota:

Anoka High School

Apple Valley High School

Coon Rapids High School

Great River School

Hill-Murray School


Irondale High School

Lakes International Language Academy

Mahtomedi High School

Maple Grove Senior High

Mayo High School

Minnetonka High School

Mounds View High School

Rosemount High School

Roseville Area High School

Southwest High School

St. Michael – Albertville High School

St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists

Stillwater Area High School

Tartan Senior High School

Totino-Grace High School

Visitation School

Winona Senior High

Contact us

For more information about Spotlight’s Critical Review program please contact:

[email protected]