Live theater is the room where it happens, where stories come to life and leave you enchanted and spellbound. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is such a show, where the music, lyrics, and staging linger on long after the performance is over.
We were latecomers to the extraordinary phenomenon of Hamilton, despite the early urging of our New York cousins. When the show first opened on Broadway, Michael and Amy suggested facetiously (I think) that even if we had to take out a second mortgage on our house, it would be worth it. Lisa offered tips about when new tickets were being released, and best ways to deal with the box office. “Why is it,” Rob mused, “that you live in San Francisco and not here?”
It might have been helpful to read the book, Hamilton by Ron Chernow, the inspiration for Miranda’s production, in advance. Hamilton the Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, is the ultimate guide to the production, including the libretto, expository text, photos, and footnotes.
Following a friend’s advice, I downloaded the music from the original Broadway cast in advance of showtime, and already felt some familiarity with this historic time. Part of the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s libretto is that it tells the story through words and song in a way that it makes complicated history both understandable and entertaining, including some liberties taken.
Of interest in the Hamilton production is the seeming simplicity of the set. Other than two revolving circles on the floor and a moveable staircase, the set appeared relatively fixed. The side of a ship became the wall of a bar or a room in a home. Many of the shifts of scene were managed by changes in lighting against the same backdrop.
Rich performances in theater can be found in many settings. The San Francisco Bay Area is lucky to have substantial options, including professional companies in San Francisco (American Conservatory Theater), Berkeley (Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Aurora Theatre Company), and Marin (Marin Theatre Company). TheatreWorks does outstanding performances on the Peninsula in Palo Alto and Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley. Traveling Broadway shows are performed in San Francisco at the Curran, Orpheum, and Golden Gate Theaters, as well as other venues.
Excellent productions can be found in smaller venues, as well. The Word for Word Performing Arts Company stages performances of classical and contemporary fiction at ZSpace in San Francisco. Community theater groups abound throughout the Bay Area.
High school theatrical performances, while varied in quality, can be a satisfying option. Performances by the students at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA) in San Francisco are top notch. These young performers are capable of creating magic in their own theater. The sets are sophisticated; staircases come and go, doors open and close, and backdrops are lowered from the ceiling. When it comes to learning, this is the room where it happens.
SOTA, which has a highly competitive entrance process, including an audition, features a half-day of academic courses, followed by an afternoon of specialty classes. Students have the opportunity to learn set design and staging, among other skills. A musical performance at SOTA can be dazzling. Last year’s production of Young Frankenstein was outstanding, as was this year’s spring show, Legally Blond.
Is it appropriate or fair to compare a high school production, however well done, with the internationally acclaimed Hamilton? I think it is, because performers must start somewhere, and SOTA is an excellent place to start.
Hamilton is currently playing at the beautiful Orpheum Theater in San Francisco through September 8, 2019. If you plan to attend, be aware that tickets are going fast (they are being bought up by those who are going for the third or fourth time)!
Still wavering? Don’t miss your shot. Be there, in the room where it happens.
Wikipedia. Orpheum Theatre
Wikipedia. Hamilton musical
Wikipedia. Lin-Manuel Miranda
Wikipedia. Ron Chernow