As timely and stellar as ever, Lin-Manuel Miranda's breakout musical makes its way west with an impressive, incredible cast

By Marc Snetiker
August 17, 2017 at 02:45 PM EDT
Joan Marcus
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To many on the West Coast, the arrival of the touring company of Hamilton in Los Angeles marks the official end of a lengthy and oft-excused wait for those who, whether by design or disappointment, had not yet been among the crowds who filed in for the show’s record-breaking New York run. But with its official opening on Aug. 16, marking the beginning of a four-and-a-half-month run at the Pantages Theatre, Hamilton plants a flag in a land where the appetite is always high for a quarterly morsel of New York musicals, but especially so when it’s L.A.’s turn to own a slice of the zenith of zeitgeist. Hamilton is here, and the city will certainly be hearing about it for as long as it’s in office.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterwork about the American revolution needs no introduction at this point, but in entering its next phase of life (with productions in Chicago, London, and eventually beyond), it becomes clear that Miranda’s work, with direction by Thomas Kail and choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, genius as it has been deemed, is still but a framework to be interpreted and elevated. In its touring incarnation, the show is every bit as grand, electric, quiet, and transportive as its Broadway counterpart; in certain actors’ cases, perhaps even more so. The assembled cast is in some ways burdened with a bigger lift on the road because, in no minced words, these are big waistcoats to fill. The biggest. Some tours arrive and have audiences yearning for the Broadway crop, but it’s almost as if the opposite effect is at play here — that surely these players must be special, that surely this selected group of principal cast members must have sparked something so peerless to be given the unique duty of ushering the biggest show of the millennium across the country. If Hamilton is what Everybody™ has heard about, after all, this is whom Everybody™ will see.

The cast is led by its namesake, the money-minded founding father Alexander Hamilton, played here with a quiet but no less formidable precision by Michael Luwoye, an erstwhile member of the show’s Broadway company. The actor wears (and belts) title role exceptionally well, playing the character with a looser hinge but a tight focus. Luwoye is a talent to watch, and he soars particularly high in the second act when experience has set in and his Hamilton can marry his feisty default with a newfound fastidiousness.

Opposite Luwoye, Solea Pfeiffer is a miraculous find as Alexander’s unsung wife, Eliza. The newcomer debuted in Los Angeles as Maria in the Hollywood Bowl’s West Side Story immediately upon graduating college in 2016; here, her transformation over Hamilton’s decades is proof of both a deep talent and layered labor, evident in the naturalism she offers when her impressive vocal choices in “Helpless” give way to a relentlessly powerful and mature “Burn.” She is, of course, bolstered by strong support from a commanding Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica (who uncovers a steely twist on the dynamic between elder and younger sister that only enhances the pathos of the former’s crucial decision) as well as Amber Iman, simply stunning in her tragically short work as Maria Reynolds. Elsewhere, Rubén J. Carbajal and Mathenee Treco steal every scene as Hamilton’s role-hopping revolutionary pals; Isaiah Johnson (recently of Broadway’s The Color Purple revival) does tremendous work with his farewell address as George Washington; and Jordan Donica brings gleeful new levels of showboating smarm to Thomas Jefferson.

Undoubtedly, this production, stellar as it is, belongs to its would-be villain Aaron Burr, played here by one of the finest rising voices on Broadway, Joshua Henry. The 32-year-old actor (who played the role in Chicago) works wonders with Burr’s reticence to opine — he’s no longer aggravating, but now understandable, accessible, charming; funny, even — and therefore, Burr’s descent into inevitable mania is crafted with a wide-eyed, breathtaking terror that demands to be seen. Audiences familiar with Henry’s work on Broadway could wager a long-term bet that no one will play this role better.

Outside the Pantages Theatre, you can hear the same concerns that have come to counter the Manhattan phenomenon: Fears that the show was overly hyped; stubbornly crossed arms that perhaps it still is. Nevertheless, it’s a show that remains a modern masterpiece, operating on the highest level of its company’s creative cylinders. This is still the Hamilton that changed musical theater (repercussions: TBD) and its resonance has not eroded with the accolades; to limited surprise, its poignancy has only evolved since 2015. Los Angeles’ opening night arrives just days after a new injury in the ongoing national crisis, wherein a fundamental ugliness has reared its head to cast doubt on what the identity of America is and should be in the future. Hamilton, more than ever, continues to sober and inspire as it marinates on that subject; if it alone doesn’t bear the answers to what makes America, its inimitable mirror shows the faces, fictional and not, of those that do. A+

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