Essential Arts: ‘Hamilton’ brings the song and dance to your living room

Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldberry and and Jasmine Cephas Jones perform as the Schuyler sisters in "Hamilton"
Phillipa Soo, left, Renée Elise Goldberry and and Jasmine Cephas Jones perform as the Schuyler sisters in “Hamilton.”
(Joan Marcus)

Welcome back! But only if you’re standing at a distance of six feet. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s essential culture news — and bathtub ballets.

The room where it happens

“Filming is easy … editing’s harder.” That’s the case when it comes to piecing together the myriad components that make up a stage musical like “Hamilton” — which includes action that takes place over a two-story set. The Times’ Ashley Lee chatted with various players about the act of translating theater into television.

Lee also spoke with René Elise Goldsberry about how she nailed her emotional roller coaster of a number, “Satisfied,” which is highlighted by a trippy sequence in which all of the choreography is performed in reverse. “The song values sisterhood over romantic love,” says Goldsberry. “That beauty would sway me.”

Theater critic Charles McNulty got a gander at a pair of competing TV events over the holiday weekend: the premiere of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” on Disney+ and President Trump‘s division-stoking speech at Mt. Rushmore. “Miranda believes the struggle with our divisions can move us forward,” writes McNulty, “whereas the real estate mogul from Queens, determined not to lose his hardcore white base, is doubling down on those divisions.”

Film critic Justin Chang, whose review described the “Hamilton” production as a “stirring visual record of the original Broadway production,” said, “I [can’t] think of a better moment for a musical that reminds us anew that the language of hip-hop is a language of protest.”


Daveed Diggs (as the Marquis de Lafayette) leaps from a table in the musical "Hamilton"
Daveed Diggs as the Marquis de Lafayette in “Hamilton.”
(Joan Marcus)

Of course, the social and political climate into which “Hamilton” has now landed is very different from the one that produced it. The arrival of the play on TV has produced a fierce debate about the musical’s revisionist tendencies, especially around the issue of slavery. But, as The Times’ Laura Zornosa notes, this critique is not new.

If you haven’t seen either screen or stage version of “Hamilton,” Lee has got you covered with an essential guide.

If you’re not sure about plunking down 7 Washingtons a month for Disney+ (a.k.a. $6.99) just to watch “Hamilton,” there is always “The Mandalorian.” Breakout star: Baby Yoda!!! Also, Werner Herzog as a baddie. (Have I shown you my artisanal Baby Yoda finger puppet?)

Elsewhere in the Lucas-verse

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is on a hiring spree. This week it announced half a dozen new hires, including: Pilar Tompkins-Rivas, of the Vincent Price Art Museum, as chief curator; Amanda Hunt, from MOCA, as director of public programs; and Nenette Luarca-Shoaf, who hails from the Art Institute of Chicago, as managing director of learning and engagement. The Times’ Deborah Vankin has all the deets in her report.

Monuments falling

Art critic Christopher Knight reports on the last known Confederate monument in Southern California — which was quietly removed from public view. The marker had been placed along a highway in Bakersfield almost 80 years ago by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in honor of Jefferson Davis. “The Davis Highway marker is not grand, but it represents an outside arrogance embedded deep within American society,” he writes. Read through to the blazing kicker.

An overhead view of the 800-pound Jefferson Davis National Highway marker in Kern County
The 800-pound Jefferson Davis National Highway marker was installed in Kern County in 1942.
(Robert Price)

Activist Jackie Broxton and historian Kevin Waite note that California is about to lose a mural featuring Biddy Mason because of run-of-the-mill demolition. Mason is the former enslaved laborer and midwife who rose to prominence in 19th century Los Angeles. “What makes the mural unique is its composition,” they write. “Mason occupies center stage. She’s surrounded by a group of white men … but she’s not subordinate to them.”

A statue of Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella I has been removed from the California Capitol rotunda.

Since we’re talking about monuments, Karrie Jacobs writes about the aesthetics of Trump’s Mt. Rushmore performance: “It was a perfectly art directed segment of authoritarian theater; Leni Riefenstahl would be impressed.”

And the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott describes Mt. Rushmore as “gigantic, colossal, nationalist kitsch.”

Coronavirus and the arts

The Hammer Museum’s fifth “Made in L.A.” biennial has been turned into a moving target by the coronavirus outbreak. Originally scheduled for June, it is now scheduled for September. Performances, which were originally going to be bundled into one of three weekends, will now be spread out over time and streamed online. And, as Deborah Vankin, reports, it will also change the nature of some interactive works.

A still from Kahlil Joseph’s “BLKNWS" shows a photo of nuns layered by an image of a woman applying makeup.
Kahlil Joseph’s “BLKNWS,” (2018-ongoing) was supposed to be broadcast at locations where people congregate — but closings may affect its availability.
(Kahlil Joseph)

Sarah Cascone looks at the tsunami of financial and other issues facing U.S. museums.

Matt Stromberg runs down the L.A. cultural institutions that have received PPP loans. And a new interface allows users to search architectural studios that have received loans.

All ears

Times classical music critic Mark Swed has started up a new series dedicated to sharpening the ways in which we listen to classical music. “Each passing day offers surprises, new thoughts, fleeting revelations,” he writes. “Music plays a role in this.”

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He kicks things off with Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 132, a work the composer wrote after suffering a terrible bowel inflammation. The resulting piece of music, writes Swed, represents “the psychology of pain and illness in all its transcendent transparency.”

And he follows up with Guillame de Machaut’s “Messe de Notre Dame.”This is a one-of-a-kind mass,” writes Swed, “written probably around 1360, only a few years after the Black Death, when bubonic plague reduced the population of Reims by a quarter to a third, as it did most of Europe.”

An illustration of a pink gramophone next to a plant
Mark Swed has been engaging in some deep listening.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

Loss of a music legend

Ennio Morricone, the Oscar-winning film composer who embraced Hollywood and the avant-garde and rose to prominence for film scores that have since been seared into the collective memory — such as his theme for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”has died at 91.

Mark Swed comes through with an appreciation of the “outrageously prolific and inventive” composer: “His stylistic range covered everything from up-to-the-minute experimental to yesterday’s most tired schlock.”

True to Swed’s sentiment, Justin Chang found the beauty in Morricone’s music even in the critically scorned “Mission to Mars”: He helps transfigure [one] scene from a purely technical endeavor into a kind of weightless dance, a zero-gravity ballet. … It’s the music you might expect to hear as your life flashes before your eyes.”

Ennio Morricone stands in front of a choral group recording in an L.A. studio for the "Exorcist II: The Heretic" in 1977
Italian composer, arranger and conductor Ennio Morricone records a choral group for the score of the Warner Bros film “Exorcist II: The Heretic” in 1977 in Los Angeles.
(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Randall Roberts rounds up the 10 most mind-blowing Morricone film scores, including music from the Clint Eastwood vehicle, “A Fistful of Dollars,” as well as “The Battle of Algiers.”

Composer John Zorn also pays tribute: “What needs to be understood is that Morricone was a magician of sound.”

In the cultural arena

Charles McNulty examines a renaissance in American drama revolving around a generation of Black playwrights — Jeremy O. Harris, Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage and others — who are “united in their dismantling of conventions that have historically marginalized African Americans from the American story.”

McNulty also writes about a new play called “The Line,” a livestreamed documentary work by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen that is being presented by New York’s Public Theater. It takes the form of overlapping testimonies about the devastating effects of the coronavirus. “As the pandemic burns through the country, no one can have any distance from the material,” he writes. “The only appropriate response to these stories is tearful gratitude.”

A triple split-screen of Lorraine Toussaint, Santino Fontana and John Ortiz in the livestreamed documentary drama "The Line"
Lorraine Toussaint, left, Santino Fontana and John Ortiz appear in the livestreamed world premiere of “The Line.”
(Public Theater)

In March, the Sacred Fools theater company’s staging of “Antigone, Presented by the Girls of St. Catherine’s” lasted for a weekend before being shut down by the coronavirus. Now it’s back in digital form — landing on Facebook on Monday. The Times’ Daryl H. Miller, who was ready to make it a Critic’s Choice back in March, is back with a review.

Eighty artists and a fleet of airplanes. That was “In Plain Sight,” a project led by L.A. artists Cassils and rafa esparza that placed skytyped messages over immigration detention camps around the U.S. as a way of drawing attention to the issue of immigrant incarceration. The whole project, says Cassils, “seemed like a brilliant way to invert the terms of patriotism.”

NO CAGES NO JAULAS reads a sky-typed message created by Beatriz Cortez over downtown L.A.
“No cages, no jaulas,” a skytyped message created by artist Beatriz Cortez over the immigration court on Olive Street in downtown Los Angeles.
(Dee Gonzalez / In Plain Sight)

“Karen represents a faction of the population threatened by the prospect of losing its place atop a toxic, racial hierarchy.” Lorraine Ali writes about the meme of the moment: Karens.

Essential happenings

Vielmetter Los Angeles has an online exhibition by Esther Pearl Watson that is worth clicking on. Created while in quarantine, the works in the show feature a series of crudely painted bucolic scenes — complete with cows and flowers and frolicking kids — punctuated by a wild variety of homegrown space ships. A desire for escape that is poignant and whimsical.

A painting by Esther Pearl Watson shows cows in a field next to a wild spaceship
“Hang in There!,” 2020, by Esther Pearl Watson.
(Jeff McLane / Esther Pearl Watson, Vielmetter Los Angeles)

A resurgence of the coronavirus means it’s a good time to stay home — and Matt Cooper has all the virtual culture doings, including an online dance party organized by the Music Center that is devoted to Bollywood musicals.

Find many more listings on our Things to Do: Arts and Culture page.

If you are feeling geeky: professor Michael Stock of SCI-Arc has put together a series of conversations featuring writers, directors, philosophers and others touching on worlds and their creation. Lots to see here!

In need of high camp and gender-bending astrology? I review the new Netflix doc “Mucho Mucho Amor” about the late Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado: “An entertainer who turned the flamboyance up to 11, he made mincemeat of gender norms. Mercado liked his lips glossy and his jewelry chunky. … His horoscopes included coquettish winks and purred rrrrrrrrs — delivered in ways that could make Cardi B blush.”

Carlos Aguilar talks with the filmmakers behind “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” and discovers how Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” mojo helped get the film made.


Milton Glaser, the influential graphic designer who was renowned for his design of the iconic “I ❤️ NY” logo, died late last month at 91. I wrote a tribute to the man who taught us how to talk in emoji.

Saroj Khan, a Bollywood choreographer whose career spanned decades and included the creation of dance sequences for movies such as “Khalnayak” and “Devdas,” has died at 71.

In other news

— How the Buddha got his face.
— A court ruling has cleared the way for Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine church and Ottoman-era mosque, first inaugurated in 537, to be converted back into a mosque. Historians worry that this could jeopardize the Byzantine murals that decorate the interior of the structure.
— The archive of architect Paul R. Williams had been thought lost to flame in 1992. Well, it is alive and well — and is being jointly acquired by the Getty and USC.
— More lost and found: in 2017, the photo library of the Chicago Sun-Times, long thought disappeared, materialized in a storage locker. Now the images are the subject of an exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, which is reopening. (The museum’s searchable database of the photos is incredible. Just start plugging in the names of famous Chicago architects.)
Daguerrotypes of California gold miners.
— The construction of backyard units is on the rise in the Bay Area as families look to create additional space for returning children or elderly parents.
— Myriad murals popped up on the wooden boards that covered businesses during protests in Minneapolis. Now there is a movement afoot to save them.
— From the annals of epic criticism: Patricia Lockwood on John Updike. Pairs well with bourbon, neat.

And last but not least ...

Swan Lake — in a bathtub.