Reviewed by Stephen Radosh

The long wait is over and the Broadway phenomenon HAMILTON has finally made it to the West Coast.  So after more than 2 years of all the hype, rave reviews, multiple awards (11 Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize), fawning articles and interviews extolling its’ virtues, it begs the question “Is the show as good as its reputation?”  My answer is YES!
HAMILTON, which began Off-Broadway and then, after undergoing some reworking and rewriting, moved uptown and deservedly became the toast of Broadway.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the book, music & lyrics, has often described how he grew up listening to classic Broadway scores and it shows. It is a musical that is at once ground-breaking and surprisingly traditional. Structurally, it is a sung-through musical (as was, among others, EVITA) with a score that goes from Rap and Hip-Hop to classic comedy numbers and ballads steeped in a classic Broadway style.
For the most part, the story is told from the perspective of Aaron Burr, “the damn fool that shot him,” much in the way that AMADEUS is told from Salieri’s point of view.  Their uneasy friendship grows sour over time turning into a deep-seated rivalry fanned by Burr’s jealousy of the upward trajectory of Hamilton’s political career and ends in that infamous duel ending Hamilton’s life and story.
One of the most significant features of the show is that it is truly an ensemble piece with every major character (and there are a lot of them) having a pivotal moment.  And for this production, an unusually strong cast has been assembled with not a weak link in the chain, so please forgive the many individual kudos that follow.
From the brash and idealistic newcomer from St. Croix in Act I to the driven workaholic, perfectionist, and professional politician of Act II, Michael Luwoye’s Hamilton is sensational, especially in the later part of the play when his life no longer goes exactly as planned.  Being slightly smaller than most of the other actors with whom he shares the stage, gives Luwoye’s an extra boost in underscoring Hamilton’s need to prove himself to the world.  Interestingly, Luwoye played both Hamilton and Burr on Broadway as alternate and understudy respectively.
In the role of Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s mentor turned enemy, Joshua Henry gives a performance so strong one could argue that the musical’s title should be changed to BURR.  He slides naturally from the warm and slightly pompous Burr we first meet to the obsessed, ego-wounded and manic man he eventually becomes.  His rendition of “The Room Where It Happens,” a musical scene in which we watch his jealousy reach full boil, is nothing shy of brilliant.
At the performance I attended the role of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, was played by Raven Thomas who understudies the role.  Eliza has some of the most heartfelt and emotional songs in the show and she delivered every time.  From the joy of their first meeting to the tragedies year later in the couple’s lives, Ms. Thomas truly moved me.
In another great casting choice, Emmy Raver-Lampman (center) as her sister Angelica, gives a beautifully layered and fine-tuned performance of a woman who would sacrifice her own happiness for that of her sister’s.  Though also taken with Hamilton, she quietly steps aside so her sister can have the man of her dreams.  Through the years, she carries a torch for Hamilton, be it from a distance, yet above all else remains loyal to her sister.  Brava!
As George Washington, Isaiah Johnson’s truly moving rendition of “One Last Time” fully realized the joy and the sorrow that someone like Washington must have felt as he stepped down from the Presidency and into the relative obscurity of life as an ordinary citizen.
Other standouts include Jordan Donica In the dual role of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.  Both personas are highly exaggerated and, especially in the case of Jefferson, one of the two major sources of laughs in the show. The other is Rory O’Malley (left) as King George who garners the musical’s biggest laughs as the king who is sure that the newly formed United States will realize its mistake and come crawling back to his benevolent despotism begging for forgiveness.

But it is not just the performers who make this an incredible ensemble musical.  Credit naturally goes to Lin-Manuel Miranda for creating a show that not only makes the American Revolution seem fresh and exciting but also incredibly relevant.  With his fresh perspective on that period of unrest, issues like Immigration, isolationism and women’s rights are shown to have all played a part back then just as they are a part of today’s reality.  Also adding to the cohesiveness of HAMILTON is the brilliant scenic design by David Korins, the creative costuming of Paul Tazewell, the mood enhancing and sometimes dramatic lighting by Howell Binkley and the always clever and rich orchestrations of Alex Lacamoire.  But for me, the spine of this awesome evening in the theatre is the brilliant direction of Thomas Kail and the exciting choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler.  What these two men have done is created a style for the show which blends the historic with the contemporary and infused the entire production with an energy and a drive that never lets the evening sag, not even for a second.  Not an easy feat to accomplish in any show let alone one that runs for 2 hours and 55 minutes.
HAMILTON has settled in to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for an extended run now through December 30, 2017.  So take a tip from Mr. Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury, and save your pennies however you can and grab a seat to see this amazing musical while you can.