Unless you’ve been marooned on a desert island with no access to any media (do those still exist?), you’ve heard of the smash-hit Broadway musical Hamilton. And you may know that its ticket prices have hit record levels ($849 as of June 9), it’s racked up more Tony nominations than any other show (16), and it’s earned a Pulitzer, a Grammy, 11 Tonys, a Kennedy Prize, and a George Washington Book Prize. But are you aware of what it’s doing outside New York City and the usual theater and award circles? It’s a game changer.
The show is about to go on the road, and theater owners from Des Moines to San Francisco are using the lure of one of the most talked-about shows in history to bring in new subscribers. Get this: Hamilton won’t make it to those venues until the 2017-18 season, but theaters are telling people to buy season tickets now and renew next year in order to get the best seats when the smash arrives. And it’s working! According to Variety, San Francisco theater company SHN’s CEO says Hamilton-driven subscription sales are on target to double, up to 40,000. Theater owners on Broadway and across the country are also talking about the power of the show to draw audiences to all theater — Hamilton is the gateway drug of live theater.
But it’s not all about money. The producers of Hamilton have also broken new ground in other ways. They signed a pioneering profit-sharing agreement with founding cast members who helped formed the show in its early days. When the show started selling out months in advance and ticket prices rose to the stratosphere, they started a lottery where eager hopefuls could stand in line for $10 tickets. As that line grew and grew, actors from Hamilton and other shows began performing short bits in the street for the crowd. Then they started recording the bits and posting the videos to YouTube under the name Ham4Ham so people around the globe could partake in the fun. Since the show is essentially an entertaining American-history lesson, the producers also give away tickets to low-income school kids.
And then there’s the diversity. The cast is a rainbow of races and ethnicities who are cast for their abilities rather than their resemblance to America’s Founding Fathers. Even the Tonys were more diverse, with 14 of the 40 nominations going to people of color, because of “the Hamilton effect.” It celebrates the immigrant spirit, and actual immigrants, that founded this country. There’s musical diversity too. Much has been written about the hip-hop musical that’s made American history cool. But show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda weaves together hip-hop, R&B, and a deep knowledge of Broadway show tunes to deliver songs that resonate with diverse audience members, musical theater veterans, and newcomers alike. And that may be the show’s most important contribution — at a time when our differences are pointed out everywhere, it brings people together. In fact, President Obama said Hamilton is the only thing he and Dick Cheney agree on. And isn’t that what we all need right now, a little more agreeing, a little more common ground?
Industry Impact — Performing arts companies and theaters could see an uptick in business due to the success of Hamilton introducing new and diverse audiences.
Lynett Oliver is an Industry Specialist with D&B’s First Research, where she covers the oil, agriculture, and mining industries, mostly. Prior to that, she covered companies in a variety of industries for D&B’s Hoover’s. She’s also written for local publications, created training materials for Walt Disney World, and played a lot of board games. You can read her shorter musings on Twitter.
Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy of Atlantic Records.