“Hamilton” is a history lesson wrapped in a hip-hop and pop opera, packed with heart and soul.
There’s good news for those who haven’t been able to score a ticket for the San Francisco run of the show’s national tour, which officially opened Thursday at the Orpheum: It’s clear that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s modern masterpiece telling the story of lesser-known founding father Alexander Hamilton isn’t going to go away anytime soon. It’s so smart, classy, invigorating, tightly written and plain ol’ entertaining, it would take a lot to screw it up.
That’s not to say the performers on this first national tour aren’t as talented as their predecessors at New York’s Public Theater, where “Hamilton” opened in 2015, and on Broadway, where it won 11 Tony Awards and picked up a Pulitzer Prize and Grammy.
Here, Michael Luwoye steps into Miranda’s shoes in the title role, and Joshua Henry plays Aaron Burr, who, until recently for many, were just those guys who battled in a duel.
Working from Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography “Alexander Hamilton,” Miranda brilliantly has them rapping (in modern language) their own versions of their tale, detailing the mostly factual tumultuous beginnings of America’s democracy. Heck, he even makes cabinet and secret political meetings fun as he explains how the federal banking system was set up.
A dynamic multicultural cast — Luwoye and Henry are black, as is Isaiah Johnson as George Washington — gives the proceedings a contemporary feel, and gorgeous intelligent, sympathetic women serve up sex and romance: Solea Pfeiffer is Eliza, Hamilton’s wife, Emmy Raver-Lampman is her sibling Angelica, who has her own connection to Hamilton, and Amber Iman, the third sister Peggy, also portrays Hamilton’s seductive mistress.
Their introduction, the R&B flavored “The Schuyler Sisters,” stands out in the seamless sung-through production directed by Thomas Kail.
The captivating women are surrounded by the sexy chorus in what feels like a Beyonce video; Andy Blankenbuehler’s varied (but not overdone) choreography is wonderfully complementary throughout. He has soldiers breakdancing in the battle of Yorktown.
“Yorktown” also happens to include the timely line “Immigrants, we get the job done,” sung by Hamilton and Lafayette (Jordan Donica), which, since Donald Trump’s election, has stopped this historical, yet modern, show.
Authentic-looking costumes by Paul Tazewell work well next to modern hairstyles; without stuffy wigs, “Hamilton” is no period piece.
An 11-piece band plays Alex Lacamoire’s orchestrations of the wonderfully varied score, which also includes jazz, and, in King George’s case, distinctive pop sounds. (Rory O’Malley excellently reprises his Broadway role as the show’s snarkiest character.)
Miranda sure can write a catchy tune. That, and the way he and his collaborators have lovingly given historic characters personalities that transcend time, are what make “Hamilton” a work of the ages (and for all ages!).
Of course, it’s worth a try to catch this phenomenon of a show. Here in The City, some actually can afford $800 tickets or black market markups; and producers also are offering 44 seats (for $10 each via lottery) for each performance.
Those who miss it this time, never fear. The cast recording is an excellent primer, and the next time the tour comes around, it’s quite likely to be just as good.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.,
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 5
Tickets: $100 to $868
Note: A lottery is offering 44 tickets at $10 each (two per customer) for each performance; visit www.luckyseat.com/hamilton.html for details.
Aaron BurrAlexander HamiltonAmber ImanEmmy Raver-LampmanHamiltonJoshua HenryLin-Manuel MirandaMichael LuwoyeRon ChernowRory O’MalleySolea PfeifferTheater