Rise Up! Hamilton is at the Pantages Theatre

IMG_0355“History Has Its Eyes” on Hamilton, “So Take A Break” and buy a ticket to one of the hottest American Musicals in history. “You’ll Be Back” and sometimes will feel “Helpless” after seeing this Los Angeles cast perform in a show that will leave you “Satisfied”, because they “Blow Us All Away.”

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Two years ago, my friend Erica gave me the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and the original Broadway production CD of Hamilton: An American Musical, as a birthday present. I opened the book (published in 2004), and started reading it, while listening to the rap and hip hop musical numbers that surprisingly enhanced my desire to learn more about America’s Founding Fathers. The upbeat, cleverly written show tunes transformed me after just one listening session. While driving up to San Francisco, I listened to the two disc CD and often listened to certain songs multiple times. Others in my car weren’t as enthusiastic to listen to the CD repeatedly, so I became a closet Hamilton junkie. I turned up the volume while alone in my car, as I sang along with the electrifying voices of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom, Jr and other cast members multiple times.

“Alexander Hamilton, I’ve been waiting in the wings for you,” anxious for you to come to Los Angeles. The book and music inspired me to look into flying from Los Angeles to New York City to see the show. Yet with ticket prices quickly rising to beyond my budget after winning the 2016 Best Musical and 10 other Tony awards, I thought it was best to wait until the touring company arrived in Los Angeles. 

Deep down I think I was afraid to hear the voices of this new cast that might sound so different than the beloved ones I was so familiar with on my CD. Would they be as good?

Sitting in row H seat 303, one week after the opening night at the Pantages Theatre, I excitedly took my seat and admired the two story wooden stage by David Korins. A couple from Malibu took their seats next to me and leaned over to ask if I was familiar with the musical? Excitedly, I told them yes and that I knew every line to every song. The wife asked me what the show was about? I was dumbfounded. “It’s about Alexander Hamilton,” I answered. Then she asked me what era did it take place in? “The 1770s,” I said looking at her as if she was joking. When she asked me about the story line, I replied, “It’s about the American Revolution.” Obviously she was strolling along the beach on the night the CBS 60 Minutes episode of Lin-Manuel Miranda aired. He recited the opening song Alexander Hamilton in front of President Obama and the First Lady during the White House Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken World Jam. With the success from that enchanted evening, Miranda was encouraged and inspired to write “My Shot,” and other show stoppers.

As the lights dimmed, tears formed in my eyes as the live orchestra played the first few notes of the opening song and the cast appeared onstage with actor Joshua Henry as Aaron Burr. I was pleased with his voice, and noticed the ensemble sounded very similar to the original cast. What electrified me were their facial expressions. Seeing Henry’s expressions while listening to his strong and powerful voice, especially in “Wait For It” had everyone in the audience applauding. Even though some people in the audience know Burr was “cursed as the villain in history,” the audience adored Henry.  Another winning Henry scene was “Dear Theodosia” with Burr in one chair and Hamilton in another singing about his son Phillip.

I glanced at my Hamilton newbie neighbors to see if they were enjoying the show as much as I was. The husband was starting to fall asleep. WHAT? I wanted to nudge him awake to see Michael Luwoye as Hamilton sing “My Shot,” yet left that to his wife. How could you fall asleep with the lights, sounds and brilliant voices bringing a historical American journey of Independence to life? 

I was surprised to see one of the wealthy Schuyler sisters, Angelica, sporting a dyed Mohawk hair style. Emmy Raver-Lampman’s voice was so similar to the original cast member Renée Elise Goldsberry, that I thought it was the same actress, just with a different look. However during intermission, I realized she was a new, glorious Angelica, as she sang “Satisfied” in the wedding scene. Realizing her beloved sister Eliza was falling head over heels with the same man in the number “Helpless,” Angelica knew she and Hamilton would never be fully satisfied. 

Listening to the CD hundreds of times, I was mesmerized by Soo’s voice as Eliza. In the Los Angeles cast, Solea Pfeiffer had the audience begging for more while singing “That Would Be Enough”. She has us in tears as she heartbreakingly sings about her husband’s infidelity in “Burn”. I sat at the edge of my seats as she burned many of the letters he had written to her over the years, while trying to “erase herself from the narrative,” in history books. 

The character Peggy played by the talented Amber Iman provided some comic relief during “The Schuyler Sisters” number and won pity from the audience as Maria Reynolds. 

With the spirit of revolution in the air, the whimsical Samuel Seabury (Andrew Wojtal) provided a few chuckles before Rory O’Malley playfully reminds the colonists that as King George, he will fight for their submission in “You’ll Be Back.” He exaggerated his facial expressions and mannerism in signing, “What Comes Next?” while wondering how his rebels would successfully govern on their own. His giddiness was amplified when hearing about the United States’ political turmoil in “I Know Him”.

Lighting Designer Howell Binkley enhanced the musical numbers especially with “Right Hand Man” and one of my favorite songs, “Rise Up” as General George Washington (played by the talented Isaiah Johnson) receiving enthusiastic applause.

In fact, I haven’t been to a show in quite some time where the audience applauds, whistles, hoots and appreciatively hollers after every musical number. In fact sometimes they couldn’t contain their exuberance while waiting until the last note was sung, before conveying to the cast their admiration.

Another winning scene is Hamilton, Laurens, Lafayette and Mulligan drunkenly celebrating Hamilton’s marriage to Eliza with “buddy-style” camaraderie. The talented Jordan Donica playing the character Lafayette, also plays the giant Afro jiggling head Thomas Jefferson. Donica wowed the audience with his comedic timing and French accent. His bigger than life personality draws all eyes on him whenever he enters the stage. 

Mathenee Treco as the thug-like spy Hercules Mulligan and also as James Madison was also a lot of fun to watch.

Director Thomas Kail and Scenic Designer David Korins idea of a round movable Lazy-Susan-style stage worked so well in many scenes, especially in the musical number “Ten Duel Commandments.”

Another scenic stunner was the ensemble’s choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler. The ensemble and Hamilton’s tilted desk musical number “Non-Stop” right before intermission was very clever as we watched Hamilton “write like he’s running out of time.” 

I wasn’t sure how they would portray Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds in “Say No To This,” yet it was tasteful and family friendly. 

Burr brought down the house again with his envy of Hamilton’s power during another stunning musical number “The Room Where It Happens.” I tell you, this Joshua Henry can sing!

Luwoye and Johnson in “One Last Time” as George Washington resigns, sets the stage for the twist in the plot with “The Reynolds Pamphlet” and “Never Gonna Be President Now.”

One could hear a pin drop as the audience watches Hamilton crumble physically and emotionally while begging for Eliza’s forgiveness, as the ensemble sings “It’s Quiet Uptown,” and during the aftermath of Hamilton’s son, Philip’s death. The young Ruben J. Carvajal is believable as Philip and the character John Laurens.

After the historical dual between Burr and Hamilton, and Hamilton’s soliloquy on death, we still have sympathy for the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in “The World Was Wide Enough”. 

At the end of the story, Eliza upholds her husband’s legacy and outlives him 50 more years. Her drive to interview everyone who knew Hamilton helps her tell his story. We learn she establishes a private orphanage in his honor during the sensational song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” 

Walking out of the Pantages Theatre almost three hours later, I rushed over to The Stage Door to meet the newer cast. “History Has Its Eyes” on Hamilton, “So Take A Break” and buy a tickets to one of the hottest American Musicals in history. “You’ll Be Back” and sometimes will feel “Helpless” after seeing this Los Angeles cast perform in a show that will leave you “Satisfied”, because they “Blow Us All Away.”

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