A NA­TION IS CON­STRUCTED

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - Deb­o­rah.vankin@la­times.com Twit­ter: @de­b­vankin

back into the Pan­tages’ park­ing lot in the pre-dawn dark­ness, the “Hamil­ton” na­tional tour is still play­ing its first stop at San Fran­cisco’s Or­pheum Theatre. So what, ex­actly, is in those white trucks?

A sec­ond “Hamil­ton” set for tour­ing, driven from New York.

Mov­ing the pro­duc­tion city to city is far more com­pli­cated than it might seem, says pro­duc­tion su­per­vi­sor Ja­son Bas­sett, re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery as­pect of the phys­i­cal trans­fer, an en­deavor that in­cludes more than 100 peo­ple and 14 trucks in all. No fewer than 42 wardrobe gon­do­las, manned by eight dressers, two pressers, a stitcher and full-time laun­dry per­son, are mak­ing the move along with 513 light­ing in­stru­ments, prop trunks and a full-time phys­i­cal ther­a­pist for the cast. Even the copy ma­chine that’s part of the com­pany’s mo­bile man­age­ment of­fice trav­els with the show.

Whereas the Broad­way and Chicago pro­duc­tions of “Hamil­ton” have per­ma­nent sets se­cured to their the­aters’ stage f loors and walls, the “Hamil­ton” tour must be more nim­ble, so it can pack up and move eas­ily within a few days. For many tour­ing shows, that means scal­ing back the set’s grandios­ity, with less fur­ni­ture on stage or soft back­drops in­stead of hard ones be­cause they’re eas­ier to dis­as­sem­ble.

But for “Hamil­ton,” Bas­sett says, the cre­ative team of Mi­randa, di­rec­tor Thomas Kail, chore­og­ra­pher Andy Blanken­buehler and mu­sic su­per­vi­sor and or­ches­tra­tor Alex La­camoire made a strate­gic de­ci­sion: Ex­cept for its cast and crew, “Hamil­ton” on the road will be an al­most iden­ti­cal replica of “Hamil­ton” on Broad­way. So rather than scale back the tour­ing set, they built a sec­ond, full-size stage floor — the most cum­ber­some el­e­ment to in­stall — that ar­rives be­fore the props, cos­tumes and other scenic pieces.

“‘Hamil­ton’ de­cided, ‘We’re not gonna com­pro­mise any­thing.’ Be­cause they can af­ford it. Not ev­ery show can,” Bas­sett says. “They de­cided, ‘We’re gonna in­vest’ — more peo­ple, more time, dou­bling up on pieces of the set — so we get the high­est qual­ity of ev­ery­thing and that when the coun­try sees it, they’re see­ing the same show they would have seen on Broad­way.”

The “Hamil­ton” set is fairly sim­ple. Bat­tered wood cat­walks and stair­ways, adorned with heavy ropes, rep­re­sent early New York and have a ship-like qual­ity. The stage floor, called the deck, fea­tures two con­cen­tric turnta­bles that of­ten move char­ac­ters in op­po­site di­rec­tions. The tour con­sid­ered par­ing the set back to have just one turntable — far quicker to in­stall, city to city — but that would have meant re­jig­ger­ing the chore­og­ra­phy.

In­stead, a new deck has ar­rived in L.A. early, along with much of the light­ing pack­age, the sound pack­age and other in­fra­struc­ture like chain mo­tors, ca­bles and the por­tal of wood beams that frames the stage. When the Los An­ge­les run closes Dec. 30, the L.A. deck will go into stor­age, tem­po­rar­ily; props and cos­tumes will travel to San Diego, where the San Fran­cisco deck will have al­ready been in­stalled in ad­vance. The two decks then leapfrog each other for the du­ra­tion of the tour.

As Bas­sett ex­plains all this, it’s now day­light on Hol­ly­wood Boule­vard. A crew of about 30 peo­ple in hard hats is haul­ing bulky stage rig­ging from a truck and into the Pan­tages, which has just laid 6,000 square yards of new, plush red car­pet.

A de­tail-ori­ented young man with tor­toiseshell glasses and a yel­low le­gal pad wedged un­der his arm di­rects the movers with one hand while sign­ing de­liv­ery con­fir­ma­tions with the other. Franklin Swann is with Hud­son The­atri­cal, which is ex­e­cut­ing the move un­der Bas­sett’s di­rec­tion. The deaf­en­ing roar of about half a dozen trunks-on-wheels trundling over con­crete fills the load­ing en­try­way while in the back­ground, a tow­er­ing wood plank wob­bles on a scaf­fold­ing-like metal truss.

As Aaron Burr might have noted, like Alexan­der Hamil­ton th­ese guys are non­stop — and if not all young, then def­i­nitely scrappy and hun­gry.

“Whoa, steady, steady,” one crew mem­ber bel­lows as a load comes in.

“Even­tu­ally, we have to get this down to 15 hours,” Bas­sett says, think­ing ahead to stops on the tour.

In­stalling an ad­vance deck is com­mon prac­tice among big mu­si­cals. The na­tional tours of “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “The Book of Mor­mon” all brought their decks to the Pan­tages. The “Hamil­ton” set is pared by com­par­i­son, says Bob Willen, one of to­day’s truck­ers. He drove the sets of “Wicked” and “The Phan­tom of the Opera” to the Pan­tages when they came through L.A., he says, show­ing smart­phone pic­tures of the “Wicked” jour­ney.

“‘Wicked’ had, like, 12 [ad­vance] trucks, ‘Phan­tom’ had 17. This one’s only two, to­day any­way,” he says. “Way smaller.”

A third “Hamil­ton” truck, in fact, will ar­rive at the Pan­tages later in the morn­ing, and an­other will show up the next day. When props, cos­tumes and wigs ar­rive from San Fran­cisco a week later, one of the most del­i­cate items be­ing trans­ported will be King Ge­orge III’s crown, be­cause it’s care­fully miked. There are also about 50 pa­per props — let­ters and such — that while not del­i­cate must be packed care­fully into car­tons and tracked.

Nick Lugo, the show’s gen­eral man­ager, is re­spon­si­ble for mov­ing the 32-mem­ber “Hamil­ton” cast, along with core crew and mu­si­cians. That means find­ing hous­ing for more than 60 peo­ple. Many will stay in cor­po­rate hous­ing; oth­ers live with friends or fam­ily or spend their per diem on other ac­com­mo­da­tions.

The San Fran­cisco-to-L.A. move is the first jump in a tour that has more than 20 stops and is sched­uled through 2020 (with an ex­pec­ta­tion that its itin­er­ary will con­tinue to ex­pand). Along the way, “Hamil­ton” has idio­syn­cratic chal­lenges.

One scene, for ex­am­ple, has Hamil­ton’s wife, El­iza, burn­ing a stack of his let­ters. The fire it­self is mi­nus­cule. Ac­tress Solea Pfeif­fer drops the pa­per into a pail treated with a chem­i­cal that ex­tin­guishes the fire im­me­di­ately.

Still, be­cause fire reg­u­la­tions are dif­fer­ent city to city, clear­ing that scene with a lo­cal fire mar­shal in re­hearsals is al­ways a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, Lugo says. “Chicago has very strict fire rules that we’re not en­coun­ter­ing in San Fran­cisco,” he says. “In Chicago, we have to have a fire mar­shal on hand for ev­ery per­for­mance.”

Also chal­leng­ing on the road, Lugo says: hol­i­days.

“We’re head­ing into Thanks­giv­ing, and most of th­ese kids are not from L.A. And we have a show Fri­day af­ter­noon, right af­ter Thanks­giv­ing,” he says. “So we’ll host a big din­ner for cast and crew — the HamFam, we call our­selves.” Then there are the sur­prises. In San Fran­cisco, dur­ing one pre­view, a bird on the roof of the Or­pheum tripped a fire alarm just be­fore cur­tain and the build­ing had to be evac­u­ated. The au­di­ence and a half­cos­tumed cast f lowed into the street, de­lay­ing the start of the show.

Th­ese sorts of in­ci­dents, while hu­mor­ous in ret­ro­spect, can be ter­ri­fy­ing for com­pany man­agers, Lugo says. “We’re the trou­bleshoot­ers, we’re the phone call, we have to take care of it im­me­di­ately. Be­cause the show must al­ways go on.”

The San Fran­cisco and L.A. runs of “Hamil­ton” are far longer than other tour stops, which typ­i­cally last three to six weeks. To make for even more ef­fi­cient turn­arounds af­ter L.A., Bas­sett says, the set may fea­ture more chain mo­tors to hang set pieces and light­ing from so they can be lifted up and loaded out more quickly. On Broad­way and in Chicago, speak­ers were hung from the set, and that took time. In San Fran­cisco and L.A., the speak­ers were built into the set.

“Some­times it’s the minu­tia that saves you time,” Bas­sett says. “All th­ese lit­tle things add up.”

A sec­ond na­tional tour will kick off in Seat­tle in Fe­bru­ary, prompt­ing “Hamil­ton” to give each pro­duc­tion a nick­name: The show open­ing in L.A. this week is the “An­gel­ica tour,” af­ter Hamil­ton’s sis­ter-in-law. The sec­ond tour­ing pro­duc­tion is the “Philip tour,” af­ter Hamil­ton’s son. Each will have two sets that leapfrog each other to their re­spec­tive stops around the coun­try.

As movers scam­per around the Pan­tages stage, mea­sur­ing the floor with red laser point­ers and tape, Bas­sett watches the ac­tion from the 2,700-seat theater’s au­di­ence floor, a com­puter open on his lap.

“We’ve done an im­mense amount of plan­ning and dis­cus­sion about each as­pect of this, and we’re work­ing with a very ex­pe­ri­enced, smart team,” Bas­sett says.

There is a boom and clank on­stage. Then a gi­ant, can­vas stor­age bin flies through the air on a chain mo­tor and dis­ap­pears into the theater’s wings.

“But you never re­ally know un­til you start ac­tu­ally phys­i­cally do­ing it,” he says. “This first move, there’s a lot that’s be­ing tested here to make sure it all works.”

MOVE-IN be­gins at the Pan­tages as the set’s deck and other in­fra­struc­ture ar­rives July 31. Out­fit­ted

THE TOUR­ING CAST per­forms on a full set, not the mod­i­fied sort of­ten pre­ferred for trav­el­ing show

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