On opening night of "Hamilton," the crowd is buzzing. Celebrities and eager theatergoers alike mingle in the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, excitedly awaiting those first few notes of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical masterpiece. And when they finally come, the crowd goes nuts.
The musical phenomenon "Hamilton"— directed by Thomas Kail, music directed by Julian Reeve with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and based on the book by Ron Chernow—arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday after two years on Broadway, nearly a year in Chicago, and a six-month stint in San Francisco. The show will run at the Pantages until Dec. 30, and then the touring cast will move on to San Diego in January.
The 11-time Tony Award-winning musical chronicles the life and death of one of America's founding fathers, treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton. But it's not a dry history lesson — Miranda uses the structure of rap and hip-hop to cleverly recount a piece of American history with quick and intelligent lyrics.
It all comes together in a show that audiences adore. When Alexander Hamilton (Michael Luwoye) introduces himself in the titular song, this opening night crowd responds with deafening applause. Controlled and intelligent, Luwoye plays a calculating Hamilton, always figuring out how to get ahead.
His lovely wife Eliza (Solea Pfeiffer) is both charming and heartbreaking as a young woman in love, and later, as an older woman plagued with grief. Her heart-wrenching rendition of "Burn" had the audience members on either side of me (and let's be honest, myself included) crying. Her sister, the feisty Angelica Schuyler (Emmy Raver-Lampman) wows with vocals that leave the audience far beyond "Satisfied."
Isaiah Johnson plays a wise, soulful George Washington. Jordan Donica brilliantly creates two distinct characters—the ambitious immigrant Marquis de Lafayette, and the foppish Thomas Jefferson, whose personality is as big as his hair. Mathenee Treco makes quite the transformation from the brusque and bellowing Hercules Mulligan to the drippy James Madison. Rubén J. Carbajal finds himself initiating two duels, first as John Laurens, then later as Philip Hamilton—and plays each man with a fire that comes along with having a strong sense of purpose. Amber Iman, who plays a sulky Peggy Schuyler, later returns as the sultry and seductive Maria Reynolds, and fills the theater with her rich, deep voice. And finally, King George (Rory O'Malley) —in his regal getup of furs and large golden crown— provides the perfect amount of comic relief, and had the audience howling.
The songs of the show seamlessly slip into one another, and the flow is only interrupted when the crowd's response to certain exceptional songs—which were met with raucous applause, reminiscent of a rock concert—forces the music to come to a halt. The actors are more than able to live up to the reputation of "Hamilton." We all came expecting them to "blow us all away," and they did not disappoint.
Truly a triumph in musical writing, the story of "Hamilton" can almost be conveyed entirely through song. For example, "Dear Theodosia"—Burr and Hamilton's ode to their respective newborns—is delivered simply from two chairs, and is as powerful as any flashy piece.
That simplicity is matched by showmanship in other moments, and Andy Blankenbuehler's sharp and precise choreography is brought to life by a remarkable ensemble, and when paired with David Korins' urban colonial set and Howell Binkley's lighting design, the overall effect is beautiful, moving visuals that enhance the storytelling and elevate it to a whole new level. The most notable example of comes during the song "Hurricane," when soft blue light engulfs the stage and the ensemble members slowly move themselves, each other, and set pieces as if they were submerged underwater.
Perhaps what makes "Hamilton" so universally loved—other than the catchy tunes—is that it provides us, all of us, with a role model we can look up to, despite his flaws and status as an underdog. Hamilton at the start of the show is "only 19, but [his] mind is older" —the same age as most sophomores here at USC. This mere teenager went on to shape America with nothing but his ambition, passion, and intelligence to back him up. If someone with so much going against him could overcome his hardships and make a difference, what's stopping us from doing the same?
Although it provides an informative history lesson for many of us, this show is far more than just an illuminating blast from the past. In the uneasy times we live in, "Hamilton" provides a much-needed celebration of diversity, and of America as a place "where even orphan immigrants can make a difference." Wise words to remember.
Run, don't walk to get your tickets for this monumental show. Can't afford a ticket? Producer Jeffery Seller has announced a digital #HAM4HAM Lottery for Los Angeles. There will be 40 tickets sold for $10 at every performance. The lottery can be entered here.
"Hamilton" will be playing until December 30th at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Tickets are available on the theater website.