Before we talk about a certain hit musical, a brief history of San Diego:
- Middle to Late Pliocene Period: Minerals and sandstone from receding ocean waters create much of the city’s now-familiar geography.
- 12,000 years ago to last week: The area is discovered and inhabited. Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo arrives, the Chargers leave, etc.
- This week: The Broadway megahit “Hamilton” arrives here on tour for the first time, making San Diego just the fifth U.S. city to host the show.
That’s how things might look, anyway, to “Hamilton” fans — with the last part being, of course, the most important.
But then, who isn’t a “Hamilton” devotee these days — or at least isn’t related to, friends with or otherwise surrounded by “Ham”-heads?
Broadway has seen its share of breakout musicals that have become pop-culture totems over the past decade or two — from “The Lion King” to “Wicked” to “The Book of Mormon.” And all of those have subsequently arrived in San Diego on tour amid breathless buzz and ticket-buying tizzies.
But there’s never been a phenomenon quite like “Hamilton,” the show that has made an unlikely icon of a long-dead U.S. treasury secretary who was previously best-remembered for his fatal 1804 duel with Aaron Burr (memorialized in a ’90s milk ad) and his place on the $10 bill.
The great achievement of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show’s unstoppable writer-composer-lyricist and original star, has been to recognize and articulate the story of Alexander Hamilton — a poor but gifted immigrant from the West Indies — as emblematic of America and its boundless promise.
Miranda drove home that message by recruiting a racially diverse cast to play the Founding Fathers — handing ownership of the American story to all its people, in a sense — and setting the saga of Hamilton’s rise and fall to the modern sounds of hip-hop, jazz, R&B and more.
Whether “Hamilton” arrived at just the right moment in our history, or simply made its own moment happen (Hamilton-like) through sheer force of creative brilliance and will, is hard to say at this point.
But the numbers don’t lie: 11 Tony Awards (including best musical) and a Pulitzer Prize in 2016, $300 million and counting at the Broadway box office, multiple productions in the U.S. and now England. (Seats here are officially sold out, with resale tickets priced at thick stacks of Hamiltons.)
Rory O’Malley, who plays a stuffily comic version of England’s King George III in the touring production that begins a three-week, sold-out Civic Theatre run Saturday, knows a little something about Broadway sensations.
He was an original cast member of “The Book of Mormon,” the still-running musical comedy that became a Broadway and touring juggernaut after premiering in 2011.
But even “Mormon”-mania wasn’t quite like what O’Malley has seen with “Hamilton,” both on tour and in his earlier stint with the Broadway production.
“For a lot of people, it's like a rock concert, you know?,” says O’Malley, who starred in the Old Globe’s 2015 production of Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” just a few months before he was first cast in “Hamilton.”
“I feel like the audience, without having a script, know all their lines. So when things are said onstage like, “Immigrants — we get the job done” (a resounding line shared by Hamilton and Lafayette in the stirring song “Yorktown”), there is applause and cheers every single night.
“That’s just the audience having a visceral reaction not just to what’s happening onstage, but what’s happening in our world. It’s a really beautiful communion between the stage and the audience.
“It’s my favorite part of it.”
And as the show unfolds, “no one in the theater is more excited to be there than the audience,” O’Malley adds.
“They have all waited, saved, and done everything they can to get into that theater. So it’s just a real privilege to get to perform for them.”
5 times ‘Hamilton’ crossed paths with 21st-century politics
- Miranda at the White House: Very early in the show’s development, when it was little but a concept album in creator (and “In the Heights” Tony-winner) Lin-Manuel Miranda’s head, he performed what would become the opening number during a posh event at the White House. You can still see Michelle Obama snap along to the song in the Youtube clip.
- President in the house: President Obama returned the favor during Broadway previews of “Hamilton” by attending with his daughters — a particularly meaningful moment for a show with such a racially diverse cast (including an African-American President Washington).
- Vice president in the spotlight: When Vice President Mike Pence attended in November 2016, the cast of “Hamilton” took the opportunity to address him after the performance, saying in part that “we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values.” (Pence’s record of opposition to gay rights was among their concerns.) President Trump later tweeted that the actors’ conduct was “rude,” although Pence himself said he wasn’t offended.
- Puerto Rico in peril: Miranda lashed out fiercely at Trump last September, saying the president was going “straight to hell” over comments perceived as disparaging after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the place of Miranda’s ancestry. (A deadly hurricane also happens to figure into “Hamilton.”)
- Ten-acious fans: Alexander Hamilton was due to be replaced on the $10 bill by a portrait of a key woman from U.S. history — but the popularity of “Hamilton” has convinced the U.S. treasury to keep him on the $10 and honor a woman on the $20 bill instead.
When: Opens Saturday. 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Jan. 28.
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.
Tickets: Sold out except for resale tickets. Official lottery information to be announced. Resale tickets generally range from the high $200s to several thousand dollars apiece (for prime seats).
Phone: (619) 570-1100
Playing the “Hamilton” lottery
A digital lottery will dole out 35 orchestra-section seats for each performance of “Hamilton” in San Diego, at the price of just one Hamilton (or $10). You can enter via the official “Hamilton” mobile-device app (available in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store), or at hamiltonmusical.com/lottery. The lottery opens at 11 a.m. Pacific time two days before each performance, and closes at 9 a.m. the day before the show. One entry per person per performance.
Check out our full story on the lottery for complete details.