Hamilton had its official opening night in San Francisco Thursday, marking the official-official kickoff of the smash hit musical's national tour following two weeks of previews here and a separate, confusingly unaffiliated production in Chicago. And I can say with pleasure that the production is every bit as polished as the Broadway one, and the cast features some top-notch talent with a few standouts in particular.
I'll refrain from giving a point-by-point review only because if you haven't heard about this show already or don't understand its cultural importance, you clearly have spent the last year and a half in a media blackout or sensory deprivation cult, and you probably would not even have clicked to read this. Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical arrives intact here, complete with direction by Thomas Kail, an identical recreation of David Korins's urban loft-like set, and Andy Blankenbuehler's dazzling, Tony-winning choreography.
Suffice it to say, the show functions simultaneously as a relatable primer on the major figures of the Revolutionary War and the early days of the republic, a new experiment in blending pop and hip-hop into the traditional stage musical form, a tragic love story with a love triangle built in, and a subtle comment on race from the perspective of 21st-century Americans looking back on the 18th century. And I'll reiterate the choreography and dancing alone are worth the price of admission.
Arriving here in the role of Hamilton is Michael Luwoye, who understudied the role over the last year on Broadway. Luwoye's voice is beautifully round and he brings to this difficult role all the passion, diction, and charisma that it requires. I'll only say that there are moments when he gets outshined by some of his fellow performers on the acting front. His version of "My Shot" is still sure to bring the house down every night.
Joshua Henry, who has a couple of Tony nominations under his belt already including one for The Scottsboro Boys, takes on the difficult and musically demanding role of Aaron Burr, and he does so with the great charm and ease of a stage veteran. His voice is also pretty magnificent, on par with Leslie Odom Jr.'s (who took home a Tony for this role last year), and his rendition of one of the best songs in the show, "Wait For It," is rousing and chillingly good. He also does an excellent job as the show's ersatz narrator, and as Hamilton's lifelong nemesis, and he will continue to wow audiences with the second-act toe-tapper "The Room Where It Happens."
Rory O'Malley, who originated the broadly comic role of Elder McKinley in The Book of Mormon and took over from Looking star Jonathan Groff in the role of King George in Hamilton on Broadway, reprises the role on tour, and he's every bit as mincing, flabbergasted, and funny as the part demands, despite only getting a handful of total minutes on stage, singing three delightful versions of the same song, "You'll Be Back."
Emmy Raver-Lampman already understudied the role of Angelica Schuyler in both the Broadway and Chicago casts and was part of the ensemble of both, and here she gets to hold her own in the part, which is arguably the emotional center of the play. She's a standout for her hairstyle alone the shaved half of her head making for a high-fashion contrast with her 18th century gowns and she does a stunning job with two of the most powerful songs in the score "Satisfied," and "It's Quiet Uptown." If you have any doubts about her mezzo-soprano chops, you can hear her here singing "Defying Gravity" in a San Diego production of Wicked.
In the dual roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, Jordan Donica has the makings of a major star after having just one Broadway credit under his belt (Raoul in Phantom of the Opera). The part of Jefferson is pivotal in the second act, and Donica brings all the necessary swagger to the part, along with some perfect comic timing and major singing and rapping chops of his own.
As Eliza Hamilton, Alexander's long-suffering wife, Solea Pfeiffer delivers a restrained but powerful performance, helped amply by a big, buttery soprano voice that she shows off well with "Helpless" in Act One. Her voice also pairs beautifully with Raver-Lampman's, and you can hear the fun they have riffing and harmonizing on "The Schuyler Sisters" and "Take a Break."
Theater fans likely don't need to hear another reason to see this show, and they either have their tickets already for the five-month run, or they're planning to hop on the lottery every day until they get one. But I'll say that it struck me watching the performance last night that this musical, in its lyrical brilliance and historical intricacy, is a wildly dense thing to absorb. I probably only grasped half of all that gets said/sung on first seeing the show, and it took multiple listens on Spotify to appreciate it all. First-timers who want to hear the show fresh from the stage which I recommend are going to have to accept that they likely won't catch everything in Miranda's spitfire songs, and it's a piece of work that demands some intense listening, and re-listening.
Perhaps use that as a word of warning if you know of a friend with two tickets whose spouse/significant other isn't, say, the type of audience member who can handle three hours of dense rapping about US history and the Federalist Papers. You might just find yourself with a ticket after all.
Hamilton plays through August 5 at SHN's Orpheum Theater.
Previously: $10 'Hamilton' Ticket Lottery Details Announced