Being a DT&D columnist has its perks. A recent one was scoring tickets to opening night of the national tour of Hamilton, now playing at SHN’s Orpheum Theater. Katie was out of town, so Brittany took her boyfriend and frequent guest columnist, Sam, out for a night of drama talk and drinks.
Brittany: Hamilton is this ground-breaking, barrier-shattering show that transcended the musical-theatre world and ended up as part of pop-culture. It feels strange reviewing it, since everyone knows it’s amazing. I will tell you what was surprising for me though; the show felt like a rock concert. Those tweens behind us were literally screaming with joy when the lights went down.
Sam: You don’t get that often, two thousand people thick with adulation. They definitely come in knowing the history and the songs too. I knew about the Hamilton-Burr duel from the Got Milk commercials twenty years ago. It’s a story that has captured popular imagination in one way or another for a while. I do think knowing the music makes it a much more lived experience, where you can stop trying to understand the fast paced lyrics and can instead get caught up in the show. People knew when to cheer, when to “oooh”, it was participatory. Even though I don’t know the music well, I found it helpful to at least have a passing familiarity with the music and the story. I wish I knew it better.
B: I was very happy that I knew the music as well as I did. This show is lyrically deft. They’re constantly spitting lines and there’s a hundred things happening at once on stage. Even knowing the soundtrack well, there were moments I was like “oh my god, it’s all happening so fast, how do I follow everything?” It felt very fleeting, which in a way was fitting. Life goes really fast and he’s always running out of time.
S: It was really fast. It’s like reading a book and then seeing a movie, although in this case it was hearing the soundtrack and then seeing the play. You have these songs in your head and your concept of what they’ll look like on stage, then the show paints a different picture. I spent part of the play just reassigning all of these preconceived ideas I had to the actual staging. It was a much more minimalist production than I thought it might be. They made use of very few props, aside from a desk and some paper or a few chairs. But there was also this amazing lighting that bathed the stage and helped direct your attention.
B: One of the most wonderful things about this show is just listening to the soundtrack is a rich experience. I think that’s why the minimal set and props worked so well. The lyrics are so multi-layered, you don’t need anything else. On one level he’s just telling a story, but he’s also talking about American history and referencing hip-hop artists, and referencing musical theatre and theatre history.
S: Loved that Gilbert and Sullivan.
B: And the Shakespeare too, right? And you can’t see those revolving stages and not think Les Miz.
S: This is totally the Les Miz for this generation. My favorite part was definitely the rap battles in Washington’s cabinet between Jefferson and Hamilton. They were at the intersection of all the exciting things going on, policy and personality, smack talk and realpolitik.
B: So you’re like Jefferson? “Let’s get back to politics.”
S: I don’t want to be on record agreeing with Jefferson.
B: That actor (Jordan Donica) was amazing. When you go into the show you hypothetically know that the guy who plays Lafayette also plays Jefferson…
S: Wait, what?
B: …but seeing it is just remarkable. They were two totally different characters. Wait you didn’t realize it was the same actor?
B: Well he was that good I guess. Generally the whole cast was amazing. Another thing I didn’t expect was how much this show isn’t just about Alexander Hamilton. It’s also a story about Aaron Burr and in a certain way Eliza, which you don’t really get from the soundtrack. It’s written by storytellers, so of course it makes sense that the storytellers are the ones who are most important in the end. So, would you want to see it again?
S: Oh yeah, absolutely! Not tonight though, I’m exhausted from just watching it.
The Verdict: This show is a phenomenon. Yes, tickets are expensive (unless you’re lucky and get them via rush) but it’s totally worth it to be part of this unique theatrical experience.
The Drama Talk: So much has been written about Hamilton already, how about we just share some tips? This show is fast. If you don’t know the music, it’s probably worth giving the soundtrack a listen before you go, so you’re not having your mind blown with the lyrics while trying to keep up with the action. Even if you know the lyrics well, there’s so much happening on stage it’s hard to take it all in at once. Just breathe and enjoy, you’re finally seeing Hamilton. It’s rare to go to a show where there’s nearly a standing ovation at the beginning and end of each and every song, but this show manages that feat. Embrace the experience and enthusiasm of your fellow audience members as part of the fun. Not only is this show groundbreaking, the experience of seeing it feels groundbreaking. Maybe it’s the moment, or perhaps it’s movement, but either way it’s a great night at the theater.
The Drinks: A new bar/restaurant called Fermentation Lab recently opened up down the street from the Orpheum on Market, so we went there for drinks. The kitchen is closed by the time the show gets out (if you go before, get dinner – such good food), but they feature a rotating selection of CA craft beers which is a pretty awesome SF way to raise a glass to a fun night of drama talk and drinks.
Hamilton runs until the beginning of August, and SHN recently released a new block of tickets, so there are still seats you can purchase through the SHN website. Tickets prices range from $100 to $868, with a 6 ticket limit per person. If you’re feeling lucky try the nightly digital lottery where $10 tickets are available to each performance.