By Charles Karel Bouley
So, is it?
Since I’ve seen Hamilton at its premiere, the biggest West Coast Premiere of a play in decades, those have been the biggest questions; with everyone waiting for me to say something different than what they’ve heard, waiting to see if anyone will speak ill of this theatrical behemoth.
Well, I’m sure there are some, but it won’t be me. In fact, rarely does a piece of theatre come along that not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds it.
The Hollywood Pantages, one of the most historic theaters in Los Angeles, is host to the play that took the country by storm all from Broadway, and is now showing the nation what all the fuss was about and how warranted all the hoopla is.
The premiere night was like no other, peppered in the fact that the nation had just experienced racial violence in Charlottesville, VA and our seated President had just defended White Supremacists and Neo Nazis. Security was tight as everyone in Hollywood was in attendance. Tickets were under lock and key, with even the most recognizable of people needing to present an ID and show their guest was in attendance. There would be no scalping here.
Lea Delaria got confused and thought our seats were hers. It was fun debating “P” or “PP” with her, and you would have just had to of been there to know why. BFF Daniel Charleston and I were truly in awe, as this was the most exciting night of theatre happening on the West Coast and we were ground zero. Almost the entire cast from New York was in attendance, from Lin-Manuel Miranda to Leslie Odom Jr. (who loved my 1776-esque attire).
It was an early curtain, and at 1845 (6:45p) the lights dimmed and Miranda himself made the not photography announcement, with the finish, “now please, enjoy MY play…”
Joshua Henry takes the stage as Aaron Burr, the villain of the play if there is to be one and the audience roars. ROARS. The cast appears for the opening number where they introduce our lead, Michael Luwoye in the Miranda role; what a weight it must have been at that very moment as he KNEW he was about to be judged. The cast appears, the number begins, we learn of more about American History in one song than most kids are learning in schools today, the opening number ends and the Pantages loses its collective mind. Maybe it’s the mood of the country. Maybe it’s a release. But having a Black man standing with a multicultural cast talking about the hope and promise of America and the dreams of a young man…tears? Yes, actually. I am a lover of American History but a hater of Rap, and I was about to be amazed.
You have heard, read, seen, piece after piece about the music, the history, the way Miranda got this to stage. But when George Washington took the stage in the presence of Isaiah Johnson, a commanding Black man with a presence to fill the theater at a time when Washington himself was being called a slave owner and his statue in question by the current President, it was almost too much.
“You forget so quickly about the race of the people in the roles,” my BFF and theatre partner Daniel Charleston said to me on my radio show the following day, The Karel Cast. “That man could have been Washington, wise, proud, strong, Jefferson (Jordan Donica, also Lafayette) was a hoot, it all just worked and the history, the STORY stood out, not the race of the characters…”
Ah yes, what the USA and life is supposed to be about. As the first act unfolded, as all the history came forth, it was refreshing to see a look at the American Dream, at what the Founders intended, through Miranda’s musical eyes, the history from the Book Hamilton</> by Ron Chernow and Thomas Kail’s direction, all tell the story I know by heart, the story of the beginning. We need this play more now then when it debuted, we need this message to be heard and seen by every living American, period.
The Pantages is helping to that end, FYI. Each and every performance will feature 40 $10 seats, that’s right, $10 orchestra seats. It’s a revolutionary move for theater, and this play has done it since the beginning. To find out more, check out the Lottery Page at the Pantages.
Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica Schulyer nearly steals the play in every scene she’s in. Her look sublime, her voice even better, as the unrequited love of Hamilton and the sister to his wife, she is the perfect mix of strength and angst. And the girl, as my late friend Vesta Williams would say, can SANG. But everyone in the cast can; they are all exceptional artists.
Miranda’s lyrics, his book, Alex Lacomoire’s orchestrations and Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography have combined with every other ingredient and impossibly made a work of genius for the ages. Plays are good, some great, but few rise to the level of Hamilton. Maybe because it’s so needed now, maybe because it speaks of passion, of love, of freedom, because it spreads enthusiasm about patriotism, because it shows us that there was, and is, a better way to do this thing called America.
Every song is outstanding, to pick a favorite would be cruel to the work. During intermission I was trying to take it all in, the entire experience. Watching paparazzi chase a poor girl, I couldn’t help but intervene and tell the man to stop bothering her. We struck up a conversation, and she, like me, was struck by the emotions the play were bringing about in her; about her country, about life. We spoke of the historical accuracy, and importance, and by the time they rang the bell to go back both agreed this was magic. She told me her name was PK. I would later find out it stand for Paris Katherine Jackson, Michael’s daughter. She must be used to them chasing her, getting in her face, but it just seemed rude to me.
Act Two moved faster and even more passionately than Act One and by the time Hamilton was shot, we all were engrossed like we were being told the story for the first time. And we were, through fresh eyes, through a new cast, through a new medium. Miranda has brought American history to life, to song, to theater, and it’s sublime. Solea Pfeiffer as Eliza Hamilton ends the play literally with her last breath, and teaches us a lesson about history, about being remembered and how a “legacy is sowing seeds that you’ll never see grow…”
The show is on tour, and you CAN get tickets if really want to, and you should want really want to get them. It’s in Los Angeles through December and then moves on, see it where ever, whenever, and as many times as you can.