Invigorating ‘Hamilton’ at the Hollywood Pantages revives 2021 theatre
“Hamilton” returning to the Hollywood Pantages for the remainder of 2021 is the ultimate spotlight to illuminate the pandemic-darkened stage. From the moment the Aug. 26 opening-night audience stopped the show to applaud our hero Alexander (played with aplomb by Jamael Westman) as he entered, to Eliza’s (Joanna Jones) final, soaring and bittersweet notes, “Hamilton” wowed LA once again—definitively resuscitating theatre’s comatose heart.
Though you may have contented yourself with Disney+’s film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s already iconic 2015 musical “Hamilton” during the past year-and-a-half, don’t "throw away your shot” at experiencing it in 3D life in this national touring production, including a live orchestra (conducted by Andre Cerullo, music orchestrated by Alex Lacamoire).
The fast-paced musical, as directed by Thomas Kail, seamlessly blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway musical styles, with equally rhythmic, sharp yet fluid choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler. An energetic 11-member ensemble deftly supports the fervent and highly diverse 14-member main cast in singing/rapping the story of Hamilton—an orphaned immigrant Founding Father—based on his biography by Ron Chernow.
Hamilton meeting revolutionary activist Marquis de Lafayette (Simon Longnight, trying on a French accent), idealistic abolitionist John Laurens (a likable Rubén J. Carbajal) and, crucially, fellow political aspirant Aaron Burr (Nicholas Christopher) as a young man arriving in New York, lays the foundation of his lasting influence on the nascent nation, especially in forming its financial system.
Soon enough, Hamilton is General George Washington’s (a stately yet warm Carvens Lissaint) right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and eventually becomes the nation’s first Treasury Secretary. But political tensions, especially involving a romantic indiscretion and the political aspirations of jealous frenemy Burr, consistently maintain suspense and urgency.
Along the way, Hamilton marries the wealthy Eliza Schuyler while maintaining a platonic intellectual relationship with her sister Angelica (Sabrina Sloan). The women add emotion and real-life grounding to the story, balancing the frenetic activity of the mostly male main cast, sometimes ineffectively trying to slow things down. Though the women add meaning beyond the political, Eliza’s non-domestic efforts are only alluded to toward the end. This is Hamilton’s story first and foremost.
The production has fun with other characters, however, including the delightfully petulant King George (excellently performed and sung by Rory O’Malley)—sardonically observing the nation’s antics from distant Britain, trusting that “You’ll Be Back”—and a colorfully arrogant Thomas Jefferson (Longnight) in the second half, who was conveniently away in France during the war (“What’d I Miss”?). His hilariously boring constant companion James Madison (Jared Howelton on Aug. 26) only highlights Jefferson’s flamboyance.
A simple stage-set of bricks and wood scaffolding—with perfectly timed lighting shifts (Howell Binkley)—is all the background required for the talented cast to convey the very animated biography through singing and coordinated choreography that whirls in simple props like tables and chairs.
Costumes (Paul Tazewell) are equally simple yet effective, with linen-colored corsets, leggings and boots for the female ensemble, and vests and pants for the men, lending a modern feel to age-old material and pieces. The female main cast wear monochrome long dresses and the men mostly just change long coats to signal shifts in status, though Hamilton dons a striking bright green slacks and coat during the second half, perhaps suggestive of his monetary-system influence.
Above all, the music and abundant, rhyming lyrics in its 34 songs raise “Hamilton” to the heights it has enjoyed since its New York debut six years ago, before masks and vaccine cards were required to attend theatre as they are now.
But even with those minor inconveniences, nothing is better than the lively energy of an enthusiastic cast and crew and an audience trying their best to give it back to them. We’ve missed that since theatres darkened in March 2020. Now the tour-de-force that is “Hamilton” has ushered in the revolutionary revival of the stage we’ve been waiting for. Don’t miss it.
“Hamilton” continues at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre at 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, through Jan. 2, 2022. Most ticket prices range from $55 to $195 for shows Tuesdays through Sundays, including weekend matinees. Visit broadwayinhollywood.com for tickets and information.