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Good News, San Francisco: ‘Hamilton’ Is Everything They Promised Us It Would Be

Your $800 per seat were well spent.

From left: Mathenee Treco, Jordan Donica, Ruben J. Carbajal, and Michael Luwoye. 

 

Alexander Hamilton. You’re nuts for Alexander Hamilton.

You have been bathing in Hamiltonia for the past two years, ever since Lin-Manuel Miranda debuted his musical biopic of the bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman at New York’s Public Theater in February 2015. You’ve watched from the opposite coast as the minor miracle of an Off-Broadway super-hit became a major landmark of American pop culture. You've seen all the Obama Family endorsements, PBS specials, Time covers, 60 Minutes segments, Tony Award takeovers, and Mike Pence drop-bys pop up on your feed. You’ve listened to the 142-minute-long (!) cast album on Spotify, repeatedly, sometimes while jogging so that it enters your psychic rhythmic meditative muscle-memory brain mush, which sometimes excretes earworms (recently, annoyingly: “Oui oui, mon ami, je m’appelle Lafayette!”) into your prefrontal cortex while you’re trying to focus on, like, a budget meeting. 

You’ve fought back sobs while reading one Midwestern writer's account of taking his 14-year-old daughter all the way to New York to see the show. You’ve done the cost-benefit analysis of how much you really want to see the show when it comes to San Francisco, where it’ll be stopping over for six months on its way to Los Angeles and then 14 other American cities. Is $500 a seat worth it? $800? Jesus, c’mon, really? Maybe an obscured sightline seat for $186 a pop—how obscured is obscured, anyway? 

Amber Iman (left) and Emmy Raver-Lampman.

You try to fight off the hipsterish reflex to dismiss anything that is mega-popular and mainstream, because you’re too old (and, be honest, too uncool) for that contrarian shit anymore. And then you sack up and work whatever angles you’ve got, or you stand in line for hours and score a lottery rush ticket, all so that you can get your goddamn hands on some goddamn Hamilton tickets. And then, tickets secured, you just hope that you will not be made to feel like a chump. 

But the question always lurks in your mind: Can a traveling-circus version of Hamilton, with all of the attendant baggage and hype and complicated calculi of face-values and fees, babysitters and bathroom lines, still be as incontrovertibly “worth it” as the pop-cultural-industrial complex has guaranteed you it would be? 

Answer: Yes. 

Hamilton is spectacular. On the official opening performance Thursday night, which followed a few weeks of previews at the SHN Orpheum Theatre, the musical proved itself to be every bit the time- and place-transcending work of artistic genius that you hoped/wished/gambled it would be. Yes, your pre-cooked anticipation of every number may have gotten in the way of the purity of the theatrical experience. When you know that the next song’s going to be the one in which the sexy-as-hell Schuyler Sisters make their grand, showstopping appearance, you’re deprived of the revelatory explosion that comes when you enter the house blind. But damned if the actors playing Eliza and Angelica (Solea Pfeiffer and Emmy Raver-Lampman) don’t slay you with their corseted bootyliciousness. As has been said before, the men are supposed to own all the lustiest scenes in Hamilton, and the Founding Fathers do their earnest best here (especially the exorbitantly personned Mathenee Treco as a Big Pun–esque Hercules Mulligan and a conniving James Madison). But it’s the women who keep stealing the “story of tonight.” You’ll never find a more alluring 18th-century ingenue than the Angelica Schuyler played by Raver-Lampman, with her bleached side-shave and her rangey-as-Rihanna voice. To quote Angelica, “Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame/ When you said ‘Hi,’ I forgot my dang name.” 

You’re probably wondering, how’s Hamilton without Mr. Hamilton himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda? Bah, it’s totally fine! Close your eyes and listen closely to actor Michael Luwoye’s machine-gun hectoring of everybody who crosses his (Hamilton’s) path, and after a while, you’ll forget that it’s not Miranda who’s nasally excoriating Thomas Jefferson. Luwoye and the Bard of Washington Heights are vocal twins, if not biological ones, the former being the Alabama-born son of Nigerian immigrants. But the Luwoye's performance is every bit as good as Miranda's purportedly was (the playwright was sometimes faulted for sub-Broadway vocal chops). And anyway, the lyrics are the lyrics. Which is to say, a force of nature. It’s near impossible to underplay how easy and enjoyable it is to swallow pill after pill of complex historical exposition when you get to wash it down with such gorgeously constructed songs. You might not be a connoisseur of musical theater, but you’ve almost certainly never heard a songbook as catchy, unforgettable, and downright smart as this. And you probably never will—hence $800 a seat!

In conclusion: The show that has touched down in San Francisco is everything you hoped Hamilton would be. Yes, the actors might have a tendency to airmail their jokes at an expectant audience. Here as in the original New York production, King George III gets to play the foppish, simpering fool, and he gets appreciative laughs. But once you’ve heard his dopey jingle 14 times on Spotify, it’s hard to feel the sharp jab of satire. You’re a little numb to it. And yes, Act II isn't as riveting as Act I. Also, can we agree that George Washington is a bit of a cold fish? But such things are quibbles. Hamilton in Mid-Market is just as generous to the senses as Hamilton on Broadway was advertised to be. Maybe even more so, our gratification having been so exquisitely delayed. Rest easy: Your ticket investment has paid off dividends. You’re not a chump like that damn fool Aaron Burr. You’re a part of the revolution. 

 

 

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