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Started: 2017-04-28 21:01:35

Submitted: 2017-04-29 00:26:01

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator sees an American Musical and experiences a major cultural event first hand

I have, over the years, cultivated a fairly durable filter bubble. I tell myself it keeps me from getting distracted by things I don't care about, and that's probably true, though I realize it also keeps me from being subjected to opinions that might challenge and broaden my beliefs.

I am vaguely aware that musical theater is a thing that exists. (It's entirely possible that the last live musical I saw was staged by my high school while I myself was in high school.) I do know one thing about musical theater: Hamilton has not only pierced my filter bubble but set up a permanent encampment within the bubble, spouting clever lyrics, jaunty showtunes, political commentary, American history, and race relations. Not to mention that the musical single-handedly kept its protagonist's face on the ten dollar bill and antagonized the president-elect. I bought the original cast recording, tried to imagine what the choreography looked like, and thought I should try to see the show at some point, since not only was everyone talking about it, but it also sounded like it was really good.

And, it turned out, my new home of San Francisco was the first place it visited on its national tour.

When tickets went on sale in December, I tried (and failed to take advantage of the presale for American Express cardholders (since I do still have an American Express in my wallet that I rarely use). A week later tickets went on sale to the general public, through the theater's website. When the tickets went on sale, at 10:00 PST on a Monday, the site gave me a line number, which was something like 65,000, after which I would be given fifteen minutes to try to buy tickets. I watched the number count down during the day and tried to do the math to figure out what my chances of getting a ticket were: the show was visiting San Francisco for something like twenty weeks, with eight shows a week, and the theater sat 2200 people, so that's about 350,000 available seats -- or about five percent of the population of the Bay Area.

That afternoon was supposed to be our walk-through at our new house (though it turned out the seller's Realtor couldn't make it so we ended up standing in the driveway for half an hour before giving up and rescheduling). As I was walking from work to BART my phone chimed to let me know I'd gotten an e-mail that my place in line was ready. Once I was on the train I pulled out my laptop to try to buy tickets, and quickly ran into user interface problems with the theater's website. There wasn't an easy way to say "give me a good seat anytime in the next six months"; I had to first choose a date, then see if there were seats available in the sections I wanted to pay for. All of the dates I looked at showed 'limited availability', which I eventually figured out meant I could buy tickets in the orchestra section (expensive but good tickets in the front and center) and little else. I was not throwing away my shot (at getting tickets to Hamilton) so I picked a random date in April and bought two tickets in the orchestra section -- while sitting on the floor off to the side of the station concourse at Balboa Park BART Station hoping I didn't look too conspicuous.

I did hesitate at one detail while buying the tickets: the address I gave them. They said they'd send tickets by mail 45 days ahead of showtime, which would work out to be sometime in early March. We planned to move in January, though at that exact moment we hadn't actually closed on the house, so I was paranoid about giving our new address. I ended up giving our old address with the hope that the Post Office would manage to forward our mail to us at the new house.

My faith in the Post Office's ability to forward my mail proved misguided. (It appeared that hope was not a very effective strategy.) Kiesa e-mailed our old property manager at the rental we moved out of (which was still unoccupied several months after we moved out) and they said they'd check the mail whenever someone managed to swing by. We didn't hear back, so I found the lost-ticket FAQ on the theater's website and asked them to cancel the original tickets and hold new tickets for me at will call. (They were paranoid about ticket fraud (and probably scalping), so they would only make the tickets available two hours before showtime and I had to show my id. Until I actually had the tickets in my hand I was paranoid that it was going to fail in some complicated way, but it all worked out.)

Finally, on Tuesday evening, 25 April, I met Kiesa for supper in San Francisco and we headed to the Orpheum Theater in Civic Center to see Hamilton. We found our seats in the orchestra section, which seemed to be populated mostly by rich, middle-aged white people. (This was, I suppose, the sort of people who could afford orchestra tickets, but it was a little weird to see quite so many of them in one place.)

Hamilton stage at the Orpheum Theatre
Hamilton stage at the Orpheum Theatre

I went into Hamilton with high expectations -- and I was not disappointed. I'd listened to the original cast recording a couple of times (including cramming the night before the show) and that helped me understand the songs and the plot. I expected King George III to prance a bit more through his songs (though he did a very good job at simpering). I was fascinated by the nested motorized circles on the stage floor, letting the audience see the scene from multiple angles -- but also complicating the choreography by moving the actors and props. This came to a head in the climax, in the penultimate song, in which (spoiler) Hamilton gets shot*, and we see Hamilton's life pass before his eyes, in song snippets calling back to the rest of the show, while the stage spins and (in a kind of live stage version of bullet time) a member of the company slowly traces the path of the bullet across the stage from Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton.

[* This shouldn't be a spoiler to anyone who remembers the "Got Milk?" commercial from the 1990s. Which I don't think I actually ever saw (until looking it up on YouTube just now), but it was part of the zeitgeist and I couldn't escape.]

Hamilton tickets
Hamilton tickets

I am also looking forward to seeing Hamilton as a rich and fertile source for political memes. Every time I hear our president having trouble getting something through Congress I see Jefferson and Madison wagging their fingers at Hamilton taunting, "You don't have the votes, you don't have the votes. You need Congressional approval and you don't have the votes." When our president was elected I heard King George III asking, "What comes next? Do you know how hard it is to lead?" In January, in the final weeks of the Obama Administration, "Obama's going home" kept playing in my head.

I left the show thrilled to have experienced a major cultural event first hand, and emboldened to seek out new cultural activities to enjoy in San Francisco.