Art can hit a nerve when a truly remarkable experience shakes you up, moves your soul, won’t leave your brain, reshapes your knowledge of history and then compels you to annoy friends and family — because you want them to share your elation!
That was my reaction after experiencing “Hamilton,” playing through Aug. 5 at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco.
My decision to purchase tickets, however, wasn’t a “slam dunk.” After all the pre-show, media hype and that splashy New York opening in August, 2015, I was cynical. Could this original work six years in the making — about the trials and tribulations of one of America’s forgotten founding fathers — really be worth the exorbitant price of admission? How would I endure almost three hours of rap and hip hop? Could I even snag a ticket or two?
I thought about the dozen first-run musicals I’ve been lucky to see on Broadway that really rocked my world: “The Lion King,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Avenue Q,” “Annie,” “A Chorus Line,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Rent,” to name a few. These shows exploded with theatrical and musical artistry of the highest caliber. Nothing could top these exhilarating experiences, or so I thought!
What really convinced me to bite the “Hamilton” bullet (pun intended) was a serendipitous trip to visit relatives in Kansas City during a date that just happened to coincide with my birthday. At the family gathering, I invited the never-shy Sydney Kort, daughter of my husband’s nephew, to share her favorite song (and dance) to celebrate the occasion.
I was expecting 9-year-old Sydney to belt out the theme from the film “Moana” or a tune by Taylor Swift. Instead, I was treated to her interpretation and delightfully memorized version of “Aaron Burr, Sir,” a conversation in song and rap between Hamilton and Burr, straight from the musical she’s never seen. Who knew?
The next day, I learned that my brother-in-law, Bill Kort, was patiently listening through the 34-hour audiobook of Ron Chernow’s 2004, full-length biography of Alexander Hamilton. Later, I happened upon an article about two Los Angeles-based, middle school teachers who stood (and sat) in front of the theatre’s box office for 24 hours in order to be first in a line to buy tickets for six of their students. And recently, I could not help but notice that large, golden-starred “Hamilton” logo adorning a friend’s official show T-shirt.
There’s a compelling reason for all of this brouhaha. To date, the play has garnered: a Pulitzer Prize for drama; 11 Tony Awards; a PBS documentary that aired on “Great Performances”; a mix tape (CD) of the musical’s score featuring a host of contemporary guest artists (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Ben Folds and John Legend, to name a few); and a popular online merchandise shop with apparel, media, souvenirs and portraits for sale. New to the inventory is a Hamilton shot glass and “onesie” for dressing the littlest, future “Hamilton” fan. And, for die-hard devotees, a collection of Hamilton’s letters and documents can now be purchased for a cool $2.3 million from a dealer in Chicago.
Is “Hamilton” really that significant, astonishing, entertaining, innovative and remarkable? Unequivocally “Yes”! And might I add, “Worth every penny.”
Do whatever you can to catch the musical before it leaves the Bay Area. If you can afford extra tickets, bring your middle and/or high schoolers as well. It’s a treat you’ll not soon forget. In the words of one patron on her way out the front doors, “I could not find one thing about this show I didn’t like”!
Evy Warshawski is a performing arts presenter and partner in E and M Presents.