Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton,' as vital as ever, opens in San Francisco

Hamilton” has finally planted its flag in California.

The unofficial Broadway musical of Barack Obama’s presidency has arrived in San Francisco, America’s bastion of liberalism, at the dawn of a very different political era.

How does Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning blockbuster, a retelling of the nation’s founding in rap and R&B, play in the contentious age of Trump? The boisterous crowd let its jubilation ring out at Thursday’s official opening at the SHN Orpheum Theatre, where this national tour production of “Hamilton: An American Musical” runs through Aug. 5 before heading to the Hollywood Pantages for its Los Angeles debut.

Many theatergoers were rejoicing that they were at long last in the room where “Hamilton” happens. But the excitement wasn’t simply about getting to see a show a good percentage of the audience already knew by heart from the cast recording.

Yes, tickets are expensive and formidably difficult to come by. The squeals of some hard-core fans hit a decibel level hitherto reached only by a few winning contestants on “The Price Is Right.”

But the deafening din crackled with the spirit of a communal rally. The musical’s full-throated affirmation of diversity, inclusion and tolerance has taken on new urgency now that these values have fallen under sharp attack. “Hamilton” has become part of the resistance.

Parts civics class, part hip-hop extravaganza, part town hall, the show celebrates in rapping flow the ideals our Founding Fathers battled to define and defend nearly 2½ centuries ago — ideals that are still being vociferously fought over today.

The never-ending project of forming a “more perfect Union,” as the Preamble to the Constitution puts it, is what separates “Hamilton” from the other 21st century Broadway juggernauts (“The Producers,” “Wicked,” “The Book of Mormon”) that have given theater a sugar rush of popularity.

Hamilton and Lafayette’s high-five moment on the battlefield acknowledging the contribution of immigrants to the cause of freedom (“We get the job done”) has been provoking thunderous applause since the show’s off-Broadway start at the Public Theater in 2015. But the cheers at the SHN Orpheum were tinged with the ironic recognition of President Trump’s immigrant-phobic policies and proposals. In loudly endorsing the sentiment of the characters, the audience seemed to be rooting on its own activism and dissent.

Similarly, the song “History Has Its Eyes on You” takes on an even more mournful resonance than before. The image of George Washington shouldering with grave dignity his responsibilities as leader of the burgeoning democracy stands in stark contrast to the partisan shenanigans going on in Washington today. History not only has its eyes on us but it also helps us to see how far we are falling short.

“Hamilton” simultaneously highlights some of very real strides that have been made in the struggle for liberty and equality. The musical’s multicultural cast, portraying seminal figures in the story of America’s founding, is part of the show’s progressive message.

learn more

Chris Alexakis