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‘Hamilton’ in a Word: Finally

At long last, Bay Area theatergoers get their Hamilton fix. 

 

An hour before curtain, Kelly and Kathy Donica were among the growing throng of theater patrons crowding Market Street outside the Orpheum Theater. One after another, the crowd peeled into pairs and groups of family or friends to pose in front of the billboards advertising Hamilton’s national tour stop here in San Francisco, index fingers pointed skyward as on the poster, as friends snapped cell-phone photos. At long last, and after two weeks of preview performances, the biggest theatrical phenomenon of the decade was finally opening.

Thursday night marked the official opening night of the Hamilton national tour, giving the evening an extra jolt of excitement, not that the crowd needed it. For those who’d spent hundreds—in some cases thousands—of dollars and managed to snag tickets rivaled only by Willy Wonka’s fictional golden ticket for sheer scarcity, the performance couldn’t come soon enough. 

For the Donica sisters, who flew out from Indiana for the show, the night was even more special: They were there to see Kelly’s son, Jordan, onstage in the dual role of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. “It’s just…I can’t,” said Kelly, who was seeing her son in a touring Broadway show for the first time. “It’s surreal.”

Others couldn’t claim such a close connection to the show, although the emotional attachments were just as strong. Avery Jules, a fourth-grader from Moraga, came to the show with her grandmother decked out in her own Alexander Hamilton outfit, complete with knee-length topcoat and stockings. Jules was also carrying a program she’d had autographed by the entire cast of the show’s Chicago stop—her family had flown out to see it there as well. (Her mother is a superfan, too, she says.) “But my brother actually doesn’t like the show that much,” she says.

Jules was hardly the only kid in attendance; in fact, the evening had a family-friendly feel, especially given that SHN opted to forgo a celebrity-studded red carpet opening. (Although celeb spotting certainly occurred: Looking’s Jonathan Groff, who played King George in Hamilton’s Broadway run, was seen posing for photos with fans; Armistead Maupin was seen during intermission; and rumor had it George Lucas was somewhere in the orchestra.)

In place of tuxedoed bigwigs, there were throngs of middle-schoolers posing for selfies with newly bought Hamilton hats and posters. By curtain time, they’d lent the entire performance the atmosphere of a Jonas Brothers show, squealing with delight whenever a new character made a dramatic entrance.

Dahlia Kapelk, a sixth-grader from Alameda, was among the kids who knew each song by heart. Kapelk caught a lucky break and nabbed a ticket through her friend Audrey Jonas, whose family scored their golden tickets through the Girl Scouts. “I’ll try not to sing along too loudly,” she said, citing “Wait for It” as her favorite song.

I asked another youngster, Claire Alonso, 13, which song she was most excited for. Alonso was there with her mother, grandmother, and grandfather. They’d scored tickets at the last minute, when SHN, unannounced, released an extra cache of seats. Alonso considered her options momentarily. “I couldn’t choose,” she said. “But my favorite Schuyler sister”—the trio of female leads, who play Hamilton’s lovers—“is Angelica, so maybe her song, ‘Satisfied.’”

“That’s all they listen to,” Alonso’s mother, Kelly, said of her daughter and her friends. “I think I’m most excited to see [Claire]. I’m excited to see her reaction.” Grandpa Doug chimed in: “She’s been trying to come to this ever since we knew it was coming to San Francisco.”

Despite the significant kid-to-grownup ratio, the decidedly adult specter of our current governmental circus floated above the show, no doubt aided by the play’s direct connection with this administration: After newly elected vice president Mike Pence was booed upon arriving at a Broadway production, President Trump blasted the show on Twitter as “overrated.” 

Waiting preshow on the mezzanine level, I asked Alan and Gail, of San Mateo, whether 250 years from now, someone will look to our times for inspiration for a musical. “In the same vein, about someone who added something significant to our governmental history?” Gail asked. Alan jumped in: “Let’s hope it’s not about him.”

And with that, the lights blinked and the sold-out crowd shuffled in, ready to be delighted. (For more on the show itself—which this reporter will describe simply as amazeballs—see comrade Steinberg’s review.) 

By the end of the night, it seemed likely that the sky-high expectations had been met, somehow. Patrons poured out onto Market Street and into the BART station, still smiling and humming their songs, as stragglers including Ted Carter and his family posed for last-minute snaps with the gold and black posters. 

Carter, wearing a red crushed-velvet suit jacket, was astonished. “The way they tell the story and make it so real and so present and relevant—and the themes of government and people making decisions—kind of reflects on today,” he said. Earlier in the day, before our three-hour suspension of reality, news was dominated by Congress’s delaying a vote on a new healthcare plan that would undo much of the Affordable Care Act—a backdrop that wasn’t lost on Carter, of San Ramon. “There was a line where [Hamilton] says, ‘They don’t have any ideas; they just don’t like mine.’ That really rang true. Just incredible.”

 

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Email Ian A. Stewart at istewart@modernluxury.com
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