When the curtain finally rose and those first, familiar notes of “Hamilton” rang out inside the Hollywood Pantages Theatre on opening night Wednesday, the audience erupted in applause so loud that the first line of the show was nearly drowned out.
Perhaps it was because the show’s creator and original Alexander Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was in attendance along with the original Broadway cast members and the show’s director, choreographer and music supervisor — all now stars in their own right. Perhaps it was the celebrity-filled crowd. Or maybe it was simply the magic and momentum of opening night.
“It was like a rock concert,” the show’s hair and wig designer, Charles G. LaPointe, said of the evening’s energy. “I think this is the best cast of them all — it rivals Broadway.”
“The story of tonight,” as the musical’s lyric goes, started with arrivals more than an hour before the early 6:30 p.m. curtain. Margaret Cho was among the first recognizable faces to arrive at the theater, where a mix of celebrities, media, guests of the show and theater, and winners of a $10 ticket lottery held earlier in the day began to assemble along Hollywood Boulevard.
“Ham” fan Cho, who cited “Helpless” and “Satisfied” as among her favorite songs, wore red, white and blue heels and a George Washington-inspired jacket with crimson lapels and tails. Like many fans who know “Hamilton” from its Broadway cast recording, this was the first time she was seeing the production in person.
“I’ve been listening to it, maybe a year or more now,” she said, nearly breathless. “I never got a chance to see it in New York City, so finally it’s come here. It’s very exciting.”
Paris Jackson rushed in, one hand covering her face as a throng of photographers descended. (Had she seen the musical yet? “No,” she said. Was she excited to see it? “Yes,” she said, ending the conversation.)
Eva Longoria shuttled by: “I’ve long awaited for it to be in Hollywood,” she said. “I’m so excited.”
Nine-year-old Iain Armitage, who played Ziggy in “Big Little Lies” and stars in the upcoming CBS sitcom “Young Sheldon,” showed up wearing a name tag reading, “Hello, my name is Alexander Hamilton.”
“He’s a very interesting historical person,” Armitage said in a precocious manner, adding that the character in the musical is “awesome, cool and smart. And he’s a rapper!”
Megan Hilty, who starred in “Wicked” at the Pantages in 2007, gushed not only about “Hamilton” but about returning to the theater as an audience member. “It’s crazy. I feel like I’m watching something in my home. Every place in this theater has memories for me,” she said. About “Hamilton,” she added: “Really, everyone needs this show more than ever now.”
It was a sentiment that echoed throughout the evening. The musical’s themes of inclusion and its casting of actors of color resonated loudly in the shadow of recent violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and signs of escalating racial tensions throughout the country. “Hamilton,” many people said bittersweetly, provides an antidote.
“We’re a country built by immigrants,” said Yvette Nicole Brown, best known from NBC’s “Community.” “The idea that this ‘administration,’ and I say that in quotes, is working against everything that makes it truly great — every day is a new horror story. In the face of that, this show is a balm.”
Actor David Alan Grier, who attended the show with his 9-year-old daughter Lulu, added: “It’s bigger than right now, it’s American history.”
Sterling K. Brown (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”) echoed those feelings in the lobby before the show.
“This show is so unique. The Founding Fathers are of color, and you’re seeing yourself in a way you haven’t before,” he said. Then a smile broke across his face. “And the tunes, man! Come on!”
Amid that Hollywood sparkle were members of the public who managed to score last-minute tickets. Cheri Pitcher from Yorba Linda got five seats last Friday — and at the relative bargain price of $150 apiece, she said. “I went online and there they were,” she said. “I’m just so excited. We’ve been waiting years to see it!”
Attempting to pass on the “Hamilton” message of inclusiveness to a younger generation, some parents brought children as their dates. “Unreal” actress Constance Zimmer arrived with her 8-year-old niece, Hope Schamber.
“The show is entertainment and a history lesson at once,” Zimmer said, turning her arm over to reveal a temporary tattoo she got for the “Hamilton” opening. “Mine says ‘Love is, love is, love is.’ She [the niece] got one too. Hers says ‘Actions speak louder than words.’”
During the curtain call, after King George III actor Rory O’Malley introduced the national tour’s understudies and swing performers (who prepare to fill in for multiple roles), giving them a moment in the spotlight, he thanked members of the crew and creative team. Director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andrew Blankenbuehler, music supervisor Alex Lacamoire (who took part in an L.A. Times’ Ideas Exchange program on Monday) and writer Ron Chernow, author of the book that inspired Miranda’s musical, joined the cast onstage, followed by Miranda himself.
“I’m a mess!” Miranda said to the audience before offering another quick round of thanks. Then he embraced Solea Pfeiffer, who plays Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, to more cheers.
The house lights came on and the audience of 2,700 spilled into the lobby and outside. Daveed Diggs, who originated the roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in “Hamilton” on Broadway, fielded autograph and photo requests from fans coagulating at the lobby bar. “Sorry, I don’t like to give autographs at shows I’m not in,” he told one fan, humbly, though he stuck around to chat with her.
The evening’s performance was “incredible,” Diggs said. But all versions of the musical — on Broadway, in Chicago and the national tour in L.A. through Dec. 30 before moving on to San Diego — play an important role, he said. “It's a healthy antidote to what we’re seeing from the current leadership,” he said. “Explaining and presenting the building blocks of our democracy.”
Outside, around the corner from the theater’s entrance, “Hamilton” super-fans dressed in full colonial garb waited on Argyle Avenue for cast members to emerge from the stage door.
Chad Evett, a 30-year-old costume designer from L.A., was wearing an elaborate King George III getup he’d made from curtains. His friend Katie Aiani, a 29-year-old graphic designer, was dressed as George Washington. “We’re trying to meet Lin; he’s our hero,” Aiani said.
Back inside the lobby, one person surveyed the scene, teary-eyed.
“Orphan Black” star Tatiana Maslany stood at the foot of the Pantages’ sweeping lobby staircase with her boyfriend, Tom Cullen. Her eyes were puffy and red.
“I sobbed through the whole thing,” she said.
Why the tears?
“It’s just so relevant,” Maslany said. “Everything felt so emotional. And at the end of the day, it’s just a really, truly incredible piece of theater.”
Look for more “Hamilton” national tour news, ticket advice, cast interviews and more at latimes.com/hamilton.
Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin
11:55 a.m.: This article was expanded with additional comments from the night.