So much has been written about Hamilton since its debut two and a half years ago. This musical, which has won just about every award it was eligible for including the Best Musical Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has embedded itself in the pop culture zeitgeist more than any musical ever has. I don’t know that being a theater geek has ever felt more cool and accepted than it did at the highly anticipated opening night of the national tour at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. The energy in the building was simply electric as the talented touring cast proved this beloved, exalted musical could not be in better hands.
With music, book, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was inspired to write the musical after reading the biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, Hamilton somehow not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds it. Directed by Thomas Kail, it is simply a masterpiece on every level. It is the kind of show that raises the bar for the entire art form of musical theater and the kind of show you feel lucky to be experiencing, somehow aware that because it exists, everything that comes after it will be different. You only wonder how Miranda will ever be able to follow up a project he and the rest of the creative team spent many years perfecting, resulting in a finished product that never puts a foot wrong.
This cast proves the scaffolding of the show is so strong that the musical is every bit as effective without the original cast, whom I was lucky enough to see on Broadway and whom the majority of the Los Angeles audience has surely listened to ad nauseam on the cast recording. Living up to the award-winning performances established by Miranda and the others, many of whom were in the audience on opening night here, is a tall order, but there is room in the text and in these characters for different, equally valid interpretations that many in the touring company chose to pursue in order to make the roles their own.
We must begin by discussing Michael Luwoye, who takes on the titular role of Alexander Hamilton after serving as the alternate in the role on Broadway while also understudying Aaron Burr. A 2013 graduate of the University of Alabama, Luwoye shows talent and maturity far beyond his years, rapping and singing with equal ease and establishing a vivid take on the character that is markedly different from Miranda’s interpretation. Joshua Henry plays his rival Aaron Burr, and while he is an established Broadway veteran with multiple Tony nominations under his belt, one cannot help but feel his career has been leading up to this moment with a role he seems born to play. He also finds shades of the character different than those emphasized by Leslie Odom Jr, who won the Tony Award for his performance.
Luwoye and Henry’s intentions are clearly established in the early showstopper “My Shot,” laying the foundation for nuanced character arcs. “The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish, I gotta holler just to be heard, with every word I drop knowledge,” Hamilton sings. Whereas Miranda’s Hamilton was confident and cocky from the beginning, Luwoye’s Hamilton at first lacks confidence—as he delivers these lines, he often looks down at his feet, uncertain and socially awkward. When he declares he’s “never had a group of friends before,” you believe him. He knows he’s much more intelligent than the average person, that much is clear from the start, but his confidence grows throughout act one as he realizes just how far his smarts can get him. When he meets Angelica Schuyler (the divine Emmy Raver-Lampman) and tells her she strikes him as “a woman who has never been satisfied,” he does not intend it as a pick-up line—instead it’s simply a curious observation as he wonders whether he may have found a kindred spirit.
Meanwhile, Henry’s Burr grows increasingly incredulous, his frustration with Hamilton’s knack for beating him to opportunities growing until it reaches a boiling point in act two’s “The Room Where it Happens.” Miranda has always referred to that number as his “Disney villain song,” and as Burr seemingly snaps, finally unable to put up with Hamilton’s success and arrogance any longer, Henry owns the stage, delivering a chill-inducing rendition of the song that became the highlight of the entire evening.
One of the many beautiful things about Hamilton is that it is the story of the Schuyler sisters just as much as it is the story of Hamilton and Burr. As Hamilton’s wife Eliza, Solea Pfeiffer is occasionally vocally inconsistent in a demanding role, but
sells the emotional depths of act two and her big grand finale very well. Amber Iman, who has a brief comedic role as often-forgotten sister Peggy Schuyler in act one, brings a unique, rich voice to Hamilton’s sultry mistress Maria Reynolds in act two. The female standout is undoubtedly Raver-Lampman, who brings a sassy, confident energy to the eldest Schuyler and nails the stunning “Satisfied,” which in my opinion is not only the best song in the show but the best song Miranda has ever written. Other standouts in the cast include the charming Ruben J. Carbajal in the tragic dual role of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton, the vocally talented Mathenee Treco as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, and Rory O’Malley as King George, in a portrayal that leans heavily into the historically significant “madness” of the character.
From the choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler) to the orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire) to the lighting (Howell Binkley), every aspect comes together flawlessly, resulting in a spectacular, invigorating achievement you cannot take your eyes off of. Everything that has happened politically since the show premiered in 2015 has only made Hamilton feel more urgent and needed. The color-conscious casting of non-white actors in the majority of roles is such a significant part of the DNA of the show, and there was rowdy, triumphant applause mid-song for the battle cry line “immigrants, we get the job done.” During a particularly dark week for our country, so many lines about events that took place over 200 years ago felt chillingly significant. We need shows like Hamilton now more than ever, and despite everything, you can’t help but feel a little lucky to be alive right now in Los Angeles, where it will run through the end of the year.
Hamilton runs at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through December 30th. The running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission. Any remaining tickets as well as official resale tickets can be purchased here. Download the new official Hamilton app to enter the daily digital lottery for a chance to purchase tickets for only $10. For more information about the lottery, click here. There are also current productions running in New York and Chicago, and after Los Angeles, the tour will move on to San Diego, Tempe, Seattle, and Denver. A London opening is also planned for November 2017. For information about all productions, click here.