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10 things to know and do before you see ‘Hamilton’

People line up to see the Broadway hit musical “Hamilton” on Nov. 19, 2016, in New York. It begins a run Aug. 11 at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles and is expected to draw people from all over the West Coast, just as it did in San Francisco.
People line up to see the Broadway hit musical “Hamilton” on Nov. 19, 2016, in New York. It begins a run Aug. 11 at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles and is expected to draw people from all over the West Coast, just as it did in San Francisco. Associated Press

Some of you no doubt camped on the phone or stewed online for hours to score tickets. You might have huddled with friends on a strategy. Perhaps you spent more than you’d ever dreamed on a play or concert.

Now you have tickets to “Hamilton.” Congratulations. Performances begin Aug. 11 at the Pantages in Los Angeles. Hordes of folks have already made the trek to San Francisco for the “Hamilton” adventure. It starts in January in San Diego and San Francisco gets it again in March.

So here’s some advice before you go. It really pays to train like a fighter. This play is a punch to the mind, the heart and, if you don’t hurry at intermission, the bladder.

1. Theaters are strict about what you can bring in

We took Amtrak from Fresno to San Francisco. Arriving about 11 a.m., we went shopping at Pier 39 and had lunch on the wharf. We cabbed to the Orpheum for a matinee. At the door, they refused to let us in – even with my precious fistful of tickets.

Why not? I had an airline-cubby sized rolling carry-on bag containing our laptops and train-traveling supplies and a change of clothes with me.

I was greeted with, “You can’t take that inside; it won’t fit under the seat.”

Why not? Absolutely no “large” (their word) bags or backpacks or suitcases allowed. What do I do?

Take it to the Holiday Inn up the street to store it, the first ticket-taker said. Not allowed, said the hotel folks when I got there, breathless. In desperation, I “parked it” in a car lot for a parking fee.

Save yourselves a lot of trouble – go empty-handed, because at the Pantages in Los Angeles, the rules are exactly the same.

2. Pointers on the Pantages

It pays to have a colleague with a second home in Los Angeles, so here are tips from Bee reporter Tim Sheehan who knows the Southland inside out.

Parking is available at a number of parking lots or garages in the area around the theater. The closest is a lot at Hollywood and Vine (northwest corner) and is about $20; others in the area run $10 to $20-plus.

If you’re staying overnight, one option is to select a hotel along or near the Metro Red Line subway system and take the train to the Hollywood/Vine station (under the W hotel directly across the street from the Pantages). It’s $1.75 per person each way from any spot along the line. Alternatively, you can park at the Metro station (at least at the North Hollywood or Studio City/Universal City stations) for $3 and then take the train.

Parking at Studio City/Universal City station used to be free, but now they charge. It’s public transportation, though, so the train stations and trains can be (a) cramped, (b) smelly, (c) subject to delays if there is track or train maintenance.

The Pantages Theatre is on Hollywood Boulevard, a half-block east of the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine, so the area is often clogged by tourists on the Walk of Fame. It can get rather claustrophobic.

There are plenty of nice restaurants in the area for a splurge. Katsuya, which is on the southwest corner of Hollywood and Vine, is an option. It offers sushi and other Japanese food and is a little on the upscale/trendy side, but delicious. It can be a place for star sightings, too.

The theater’s website offers dining suggestions and advice on what to expect when you get to the Pantages.

3. Do your homework

There are 24,000 words in “Hamilton.” Author, lyricist and star Lin-Manuel Miranda says that’s more than in “Merchant of Venice,” “Richard the II,” “The Taming of the Shrew” or “MacBeth.”

Once you catch “Hamilton” fever, a severe phobia infects you: It’s called FOMO, fear of missing out. You’ll want to catch on to the cadence as fast as you can, so it pays to read the lyrics in advance.

The clarity and speed of the speech varies from actor to actor, and it’s been difficult for some people, judging by comments on Facebook, to catch everything.

4. Why hip-hop for a story about a Treasury secretary?

The story is rapped, spoken and sung in R&B, blues and Broadway tunes. In Miranda’s mind, hip-hop embodies the raw, intense voice of the American Revolution, and especially a poor kid from the Caribbean, who comes north with nothing and helped to build a nation. Part of the theater revolution that is “Hamilton” is the way Miranda mixes up the music styles.

5. Where do I start?

Get the soundtrack for your device of choice and soon you’ll want it in your ears everywhere. Get the book “Hamilton: The Revolution” by Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. It has photos, all the words from the songs, and notes from LMM about the making of the music and the play. The making of the play is a movie in itself. It’s crying out to be made.

6. Digging deeper

Go to YouTube and watch performances of the songs, especially the chilling night when Miranda performed the first song he wrote for the play at a poetry jam hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. Watch Michelle take him up on the invitation to snap along with the tune and catch your breath when the president gives him a standing ovation. That video has been viewed more than 1 million times.

There is also the original book that inspired the whole jillion-dollar enterprise, a biography of Hamilton, written by Ron Chernow.

7. Your funnybone might crack

The comedians steal the show. Though most of the attention goes to the music and the dramatic moments of our young, scrappy nation’s history, two characters – mad King George III and Thomas Jefferson – are among the most memorable and lovable.

8. Is this war story mostly for guys?

Oh, heck, no! Miranda didn’t forget the women in this story, and they are more than barmaids and prostitutes. Women fight in the battles alongside the men. And we get to know the enchanting three Schyler sisters, one of whom becomes the love of Hamilton’s life, his bride, writer and New York philanthropist.

And, dang it, if he had listened to her, he would have been president and lived a heckuva lot longer! Another sister, a brilliant intellectual sparring partner, loves him from a distance for life. We also get to meet Mrs. Reynolds, who exposes Hamilton’s dark weaknesses.

9. You might need a restroom strategy

The women’s bathroom scene can be a nightmare in these old theaters. Scope it out on the way in. Emily Pessano of the Good Company Players in Fresno just saw the show on Broadway, and she suggests staking out a restroom across the street in advance, in case you get crowded out of the theater restrooms. (Don’t forget to take your ticket with you.)

10. Yes, there will be tears

I will love Alexander Hamilton forever more, but he also broke my heart. I was in a puddle of tears by the end. My reaction was like others I’ve seen posted on social media: “life-changing.”

Gail Marshall: 559-441-6680

Need a ticket?

Tickets are available at (800) 982-2787. Good luck getting tickets in the $10 daily lottery for “Hamilton” seats (there are 40 orchestra seats distributed every day at the Pantages).

The Fresno-based nonprofit Alliance for Medical Outreach & Relief is raffling off four premium seats to benefit its project in Mendota. Call 559-440-8330 for details.

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