Getting the Pantages tickets was not an easy task and it took a long wait since I wasn’t given press reservations. To get to the Pantages requires some freeway time, crossing downtown Los Angeles and a parking fee of at least $20. Dressed up for the occasion, it was a treat and there is something special about the glamor of the Pantages with its over-the-top Art Deco design and plush seats. The sound system doesn’t drown out the crowd response. There’s something to be said for the live shared experience.
Seeing “Hamilton” was a streamed film event is both more democratic than an elitist theatrical event and more individualistic. Settled down with dogs and slouching down on a comfy couch, I streamed while snacking and taking to heart Guillermo del Toro’s advice, I’ve seen it four times online.
If you haven’t been to any of the Fathom events or been watching any of the PBS Great Performances, then you might be impressed that the camera isn’t static. Filmed theatrical performances have progressed far beyond that in the last decade with Met opera fans complaining about pandering to the film audience, but Fathom events attendees already know this having see Kenneth Branagh’s “Macbeth” (National Theatre Live) or Christopher Plummer’s “The Tempest” (The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production) or Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller’s “Frankenstein” (National Theatre Live).
With “Hamilton” three performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Manhattan in June 2016 were used. Two had an audience present. One was without for use of a Steadicam, crane and dolly. Some compromises were made: Two usages of the word “fuck” were omitted “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)” and “Washington on Your Side” while a suggested usage (uncompleted) was kept in “Say No to This,” but a fourth one in “The Adams Administration” was retained but is bleeped out intentionally as part of the show (and as done in the cast album). This prevented the film from getting an R-rating and instead garnered it a PG-13 rating by the MPA.
The original Broadway production won 11 Tonys (out of 16 nominations and 13 possible awards due to multiple nominations in the same categories): Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, Best Actor in a Musical (Leslie Odom Jr., winning over Lin-Manuel Miranda), Best Actress (Phillipa Soo), Best Beatured Actor in a Musical (Daveed Diggs over Jonathan Groff and Christopher Jackson), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Best Costume Design of a Musical (Paul Tazewell), Best Lighting Design of a Musical (Howell Binkley), Best Direction of a Musical (Thomas Kail), Best Choreography (Andy Blakenbuehler) and Best Orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire).
The National Tour that came through Los Angeles in 2017 didn’t include a single of the original Broadway cast members so seeing them in the roles they originated and were nominated or won Tonys for was a treat.
“Hamilton” is divided into two acts. The first act shows in a montage the rise of Alexander Hamilton through a troubled childhood on the Caribbean island of Nevis as the illegitimate son of a Scottsman and a married woman when he is orphaned and then sent to live with relatives and finally comes to New York in 1776 where he can re-create himself and eventually becomes the aide-de-camp of General George Washington. The American Revolution offers Hamilton the opportunity to rise up in the world. He also meets the three Schuyler sisters and marries the second oldest, Eliza.
The second act finds Hamilton a prominent member of the new government as the first Secretary of the Treasury. His affair with Maria Reynolds rocks his marriage and crushes his chances of becoming a future president. Although duels are illegal in the state where he lives, he advises his eldest son, Philip, on how and where to duel. Philip dies and Hamilton dies in a duel at the same place, shot by Burr. In the end, it is Eliza who will protect and promote Hamilton’s legacy, outliving him by half a century and seeing the future that Hamilton had hoped for.
As the audience of a stage production, you get to feel the atmosphere of the crowd which with a sold-out show is one of envy on the outside and anticipation on the inside. Can the show live up to the hype. “Hamilton” has so much information to take in and the glam factor of the Pantages (August 11 to December 30, 2017) can’t be ignored.
I had the luxury of having watched the PBS 2016 documentary “Hamilton’s America,” from which some of the footage in the Disney+ movie comes. I had also gone to see a parody, “Spamilton,” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City months before.
The Pantages production didn’t disappoint and you were able to intuitively understand the characters through the choreography and staging, something that isn’t as apparent in the Disney+ movie. You won’t be as aware of the different way that Hamilton moves on stage (in curved lines) compared to the man who is first his friend and then his murderer Aaron Burr (straight lines). The personality of each character is revealed through the rhythm and words the hip-hop songs/dialogue.
Since I didn’t get front-row seats, I didn’t get to see if this production’s King George (Rory O’Malley) was a spitter. I learned at a more informal and private PBS showcase performance that Jonathan Groff was (which he warned the audience before he began).
The Disney+ movie’s usage of close-ups exposes that Groff spit problem, but his facial expressions significantly add to the performance of the song. I had seen both the spitting and the expressions in the private concert, but not with his costume.
The Disney+ movie, also directed by Kail with cinematography by Declan Quinn (“Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway” (2008), “Shrek The Musical” (2013)), allows the audience to focus in on individual characters and Kail gives us views from what seems to be the front seats–showing the actors standing above, almost heroic in stance, as well as ones at eye level, exposing the characters as humans just like us. And Kail can’t resist an overhead shot so we can appreciate the choreography in a more cinematic way.
The general impression is that instead of looking at a revolutionary movement and a society moving together toward a goal although from time to time breaking apart as with the stage production, the audience is experiencing the individual turmoils within the movement toward independence.
“Hamilton” in movie or stage musical form is a wonderful experience and a fun way to learn the gist of history, serving as a catalyst for more excavating of history.
A new production was supposed to play again at the Pantages from March to November of 2020, but the show was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Lin-Manuel Miranda based his musical on the 2004 “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow and Chernow worked with Miranda for six years as “Hamilton” was developed, there are a few problems. Some people might want to discuss racism and the topic of slavery, but while slavery is mentioned and not extensively delved into, there’s a more striking feature that remains problematic: the portrayal of women.
“Hamilton” has the three Schuyler sisters are the sole heirs to the Schuyler name and fortunes. The eldest sister, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry) instantly falls in love with Hamilton, but knowing that her duty is to marry well as her family has no sons, she doesn’t not consider Hamilton a suitable husband for herself and instead, leads him over to meet her sister, Eliza. As a result of this unfulfilled love spark, they will both be unsatisfied in their lives, giving Hamilton a weak, but emotional explanation for his later unfaithfulness with Reynolds (Reynolds is played by the same actress, Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays the third Schuyler sister, Peggy).
Angelica Schuyler was the eldest daughter of General Philip Schuyler, but she also had seven siblings that lived into adulthood, including Philip Schuyler. Angelica eloped in 1777 to marry John Barker Church, which was before she had met Hamilton. Eliza reportedly met Hamilton in 1778 briefly when Hamilton visited the Schuyler family (Angelica would have her first son, Philip Schuyler Church, in 1778 who would later serve as an aide-de-camp to Hamilton.), but became reacquainted with her in 1780 while she was visiting her aunt in Morristown where he was stationed as Washington’s aide-de-camp.
Church actually owned the Wogdon pistols what were used in the 1801 duel when Hamilton’s son Philip died and in the 1804 duel where Burr killed Hamilton.
Although there is speculation that Angelica and Hamilton might have had an affair because of the tone of some correspondence, there is no proof. Angelica also corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette but had a special affection for Hamilton.
Eliza would meet and become life-long friends with Martha Washington in Morristown and yet we don’t see any evidence of Martha in “Hamilton.” The more somber and anti-slavery Founding Father John Adams is mentioned twice (once by King George), but Adams, who didn’t have a favorable opinion of Hamilton, is never seen and neither is an importantFounding Mother, Abigail Addams.
Eliza Hamilton, like Martha Washington and Abigail Adams, was a remarkable woman in her own right. Of course, John Adams is a central figure in the much older musical, “1776.” Premiering on Broadway in 1969, the Broadway revival had been scheduled for 2021 before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite its faults, “Hamilton” is an exciting, engaging filmed performance that will hopefully excite its audience to look closer into history.