Review: ‘Hamilton’ as seen in L.A.

Peer pressure can be a positive force in a child’s life. For a year, my daughters were indifferent to the hit play “Hamilton.” I played the show’s soundtrack weekly on the way to dance. It was met with “meh.” Then, a friend of Siena, my nine-year-old daughter, revealed she was a huge Hamilton fan. Following her friend’s example, my daughter took to Hamilton with a concentration only matched by her obsession with slime. She knows more about revolutionary history than I ever did (or still do).

 

Since Siena’s conversion, big sister has come along too. Now, every speaker in the house regularly asks the question, “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up … to be a hero and a scholar?”

Well, I guess you’ll know if you see the play.

Los Angeles is a wonderful place to visit if you know someone. My brother lives there and we had a trip planned around the holidays. I looked to see if there were any live shows during our stay. With a little luck, I might catch a Journey or Great White performance.

I saw that Hamilton was playing! The idea grew and …

(I need to interject. If you know my family … Santa Claus bought the Hamilton tickets. Santa exists. Santa thinks Siena is a very good girl. Santa has resources. Santa decided Siena would get to see Hamilton. It was all Santa).

And Santa bought the tickets. Santa rationalized buying the tickets by noting the money he saved not having to stay in a hotel during his week off in LA after delivering gifts. (Slow wink). And you too will have to rationalize the costs. They don’t make sense. (Now envision economist Adam Smith’s invisible hand scurrying off to its hide-y-hole like the Addams Family’s the Thing.)

Hamilton played at the ornate Hollywood Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The theater is so different than venues in Juneau. The chandeliers were an event unto themselves. The air was cool, the bathrooms crowded, the vendors busy; all new to my sheltered Juneau girls. We were seated. My daughters, especially Siena, vibrated in their seats. The lights dimmed.

“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman…”

After recovering from the realization that Hamilton writer-director Lin-Manuel Miranda was not starring, Siena loved Hamilton. “It just looked so cool and all the big dance moves and the hhheeeeee quaaaaaa (she’s bouncing) and it’s all just so cool. And it’s super funny.”

Funny? The first half of Hamilton uses some humor as Hamilton establishes himself as a leader in a new land while the revolution rages. The King of England, George, steals the show with the hilarious and dark “You’ll be Back.” However, the second half is about reckoning with your fallacies. The second half is sad, crushingly so. My daughter and I cried for an hour as Hamilton struggled with securing a new government while failing his wife and son. Funny?

The second half is most unexpected and interesting. Once we leave the heroics of the revolution and constitution, the viewer experiences a collective “now what?” The play pounds home the fact our founding fathers were just people, with all the faults, strengths, arrogance, and genius. They were just people who struggled mightily to translate the words of our constitution into practical governance. From imperfect people with potential for greatness came an imperfect nation with potential for greatness. From the level of a nation down to the specifics of an immigrant’s struggle, Hamilton is about the journey of continuous improvement.

Highlights included...

A party scene where Hamilton met his future wife Eliza. Two scenes of the same event played in two perspectives. In between, the stage turned and sound played backward like scratching hip hop on a giant record. They were not showing off; the change in perspective was necessary to bring new knowledge to light.

Jordan Donica played Thomas Jefferson as an over the top fop. My wife, a University of Virginia graduate, was aghast. In watching interviews with Miranda, Hamilton and Jefferson were not friends, and this is Hamilton’s story. The unconventional portrayal of Jefferson could be challenging, but within this experience, absolutely perfect.

Isaiah Johnson played George Washington. He pulled off the role with a heft and gravitas you’d expect. Even in this reimagining of our founding fathers, George Washington is still a badass.

Solea Pfeiffer plays Eliza with an arc of growth, sadness, and strength. In fact, she was so reticent in the first part of the story, I was worried the actress was ill. As the story progressed and her character became more central, more necessary, the performance strengthened. And finally, after years of listening to the soundtrack, I finally have the answer to “who will tell your story?”

Hamilton is a stunning achievement. Never could you predict a hip-hop Broadway fusion musical about a founding father not named Washington, Jefferson, or Franklin would be a smash. Just like you’d never predict the U.S. would win a gold in cross country skiing. Just like you’d never predict a ragtag, volunteer army, in need of a shower, somehow beat a global superpower. But it all happened anyway.

Thank you, Santa.

If you’re interested, Hamilton is about as close as it will get over the next few weeks. Hamilton plays at the Paramount Theater in Seattle from Feb. 27 through March 18. Go to Ticketmaster.com for exact date, times, and ticket costs. Tickets currently range from $255 each to well over $1,000.

Clint J. Farr can be reached at cjfarr@hotmail.com.

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