By PAUL HODGINS
“Hamilton” is one of those rare shows that doesn’t need an introduction. No matter where it goes, “Hamilton’s” producers don’t have to worry about trying to sell it. Tickets to the most successful musical in a generation have been as hard to snag as unicorn horns. Even before it landed 11 Tony Awards, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s creation was a genre-busting phenomenon that had worked its way into many different corners of the culture.
That’s why Friday’s media event at the Pantages Theatre, the day of its first performance, was such a surprise. The cast and creative team (including two “Hamilton” Tony winners, director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler) were trotted out for a lengthy Q&A. Handlers and publicists were watching their smart phones, mindful of an upcoming afternoon rehearsal.
But if the “Hamilton” stars were anxious about their L.A. opening, it didn’t show. Michael Luwoye, who plays the title character, acted like a man who still couldn’t believe his good fortune. He ogled the Pantages’ sumptuous décor – it was his first time in the theater, or Los Angeles.
“Back in 2015, I started auditioning for the off-Broadway production of this show,” Luwoye said. He was trying out for other parts. “I went in, got a callback, then it stopped.” Later, he auditioned for roles when the Broadway production was gearing up. He got a call that night and was offered the alternate role of Hamilton in the Broadway production. “I thought I was going toward the (touring) production for Mulligan or Madison (two smaller roles.) He shook his head, smiled, and was silent for a few seconds at the memory. “Completely out of left field.”
Others shared extraordinary memories of early “Hamilton” experiences. Alex Lacamoire, “Hamilton’s” orchestrator and co-arranger, remembers playing piano for the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, in 2009, when only the title song existed. They performed it for President Obama and the First Lady during a special arts event at the White House. He recalls being very nervous, but he said he was oblivious to the song’s impact that night. (Michelle Obama later famously heaped praise on it).
Lacamoire still chuckles at the video of the performance.“Oh my God. My face is frozen in a smile. I’m like, ‘Why am I smiling so big?’” It wasn’t until later, when the video went viral on YouTube, that the pair realized they had something extraordinary on their hands.
Thomas Kail, who won a Tony for directing the Broadway production of “Hamilton,” remembers an intimate performance about 18 months later when he realized that “Hamilton” possessed something special, even though only two songs had been written at that point.
“It became very apparent to me that something was happening. There was a feeling in that audience that I was able to detect. I said to Lin in 2011, ‘Why don’t we pick a date a few months from now? Do two songs a month, let’s just do a concert. Let’s get our friends together, get a band together, and see what we’ve got.’”
In January of 2012, they did a concert of 10 “Hamilton” songs. “That was a real catalyst,” Kail said.
Blankenbuehler was in the audience that night. “It was undeniable to everyone around me that we were hearing and seeing something special.”
“Special” is a word that everyone associated with “Hamilton” keeps using. Emmy Raver-Lampman, whose credits include playing Elphaba in “Wicked,” says that playing Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton” is the “biggest challenge I’ve ever faced.” Jordon Donica, who plays the Marquis de Lafayette, is an experienced Shakespearean actor. “It reminds me of the best plays of Shakespeare,” he said. It’s also as long and wordy as Shakespeare, with a script that totals more than 24,000 words, the actor pointed out.
“Hamilton’s” creators say the unprecedented success of the show opens up new doors for what a successful musical can be. Going forward, “There are no rules,” Blankenbuehler said. “Honor what you love. Take those chances, because as long as it’s from a heartfelt place, it’s gonna work.”
“Our show is a love letter to so many shows that came before us,” Kail said. “It’s influenced by musical theater and ‘The Matrix.’ All of those things are in play. This allows people that are making stuff to say, ‘Hey, (my show) can be anything.’”
When: Aug. 11 through Dec. 30. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 7 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles.
Information: 800-982-2787, hollywoodpantages.com