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Hamilton

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A touring show with as much hype as Hamilton has generated calls into question the extraordinary pricing and scarcity of tickets that has occurred since the announcement that the show would be opening in Los Angeles in August. With orchestra seats on a weekend commanding nearly $1500.00, it must be better than good; it needs to be transformative. Luckily, it is.

 

Lin-Manual Miranda has taken a 2004 book by Pulitzer biographer Ron Chernow and turned it into a juggernaut that will likely meet or surpass some of Broadway’s most historically successful musicals. With book, lyrics, and music all created by Miranda, it is a remarkable achievement.

The production, entirely sung through, begins with “Alexander Hamilton,” an energetic background to his early life as an orphan in the Caribbean, testifying to his drive as a hard worker and his need to be part of something important. He (Michael Luwoye) finds that cause in the revolution against England, joined by four compatriots: Aaron Burr (Joshua Henry), the French Marquis de Lafayette (Jordan Donica), abolitionist John Laurens (Ruben J. Carbajal) and apprentice Hercules Mulligan (Mathenee Treco). Their rousing “The Story of Tonight” sets the stage for the fight for freedom ahead.

Miranda’s choices of rap and traditional Broadway-style numbers gives energy to the unfolding story of Hamilton’s historical legacy as an aide to General George Washington (Isaiah Johnson), a commander in the Revolution, a lawyer after the war, then Treasury Secretary under the newly elected Washington. That we know from the beginning that Hamilton will eventually be assassinated by his friend, Burr, simply gives poignancy to the unfolding details of his life with its political successes and personal failures.

The three key females in the story, “The Schuyler Sisters,” offer the romance that the story might lack without the relationships of Hamilton and wife Eliza (Solea Pfeiffer) and sister-in-law Angelica (Emmy Raver-Lampman). The eventual loss of his son, Phillip (Ryan Vasquez), in a duel defending his father’s honor also brings into focus the private side of this historical figure.

Beyond Miranda’s considerable achievement in the construction of the play, recognition needs to be awarded to director Thomas Kail for his finely tuned handling of the large cast, the dynamic choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. In less talented hands, the rapid-fire exposition in rap, R & B, and traditional music could have overwhelmed the actors and the story. That the choreography seems essential to the narrative is a testament to Kail’s skill as well as Blankenbuehler's.

Small in stature but generous in talent, Luwoye fills Hamilton’s shoes with the requisite power necessary to capture the intensity of his ambition and human failings. Henry makes a compelling Burr, especially as he envies Hamilton’s rise to power, “The Room Where it Happens.” Johnson commands the stage, particularly in "One Last Time," in his farewell. He personifies the leadership that one believes Washington must have had.

Both Pfeiffer and Raver-Lampman are standouts vocally and dramatically. Some of their most affecting songs are delivered at key moments in the story.

Comic moments are well handled by Rory O'Malley as King George, a fey and foolish monarch. Miranda's choice to insert him between the scenes is clever. Also, surprisingly arch is Donica as Thomas Jefferson, tall, lanky, and deliciously dandified.

The large ensemble dances and sings with precision, adding the color and excitement to depictions of the war, and they perform as a constant presence in the story. Costumes by Paul Tazewell enrich the spectacle and simply enhance the production. David Korins serviceable scenic design and Howard Binkley's lighting undergird the production notably.

As a bit of history, it is successful. Historians might take exception to the color-conscious casting, as the story doesn't really address some of the issues surrounding that decision. It certainly doesn't affect the enjoyment of Miranda's lively take on the Revolution, though, and the fairly low profile of our Treasury Secretary whose inclusion on the $10 bill has been the subject of recent news.

I was prepared to dislike this show, as rap and hip-hop are far beyond my purview as a reviewer of music. The idea of combining them with history and melodrama seemed an artificial construct. Thanks to Miranda’s understanding of the dramatic arc, though, the whole thing works seamlessly, and the music never overwhelms the intent to magnify a moment in the nation’s past.

With the opening of the successful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Ahmanson and now Hamilton at the Pantages, this summer has provided excitement for audiences looking for innovation. These up-and-coming young playwrights bode well for theater in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.