The Trickle Down Effect of 'Hamilton'

Is Hamilton fever helping Broadway? And will it die down as many of the original cast leave? These questions--or ones just like them--dominate all my recent conversations, as much as I purposely try to avoid them.

As for the opening question, there are two schools of thought. The first, which is the one most will express on the record, is that it is a tremendous help to the community. Look at the increased awareness of Broadway around the country. Look at the Tony Award ratings. Look at how many other shows are promoted via #Ham4Ham. Look at the Hamilton fan base that will impact not just Hamilton but every show that a cast member from Hamilton enters.

The second, less openly discussed opinion, is that Hamilton hype is hurting the runners-up. The theory is as follows: if someone has to spend $1000 on a ticket to Hamilton they are less likely to go to the number of shows they normally would during the year. In other words, that audience member is saving up their money to see Hamilton. If they normally spend $1000 a year on theater tickets they are now spending that all on one show instead of the usual five shows. Indeed I do know people who are saving up for Hamilton instead of going to multiple cheaper options. (I think this second option applies mostly to folks in the tristate area. If you are a tourist it's less likely this type of calculation will happen, though I suppose two/three shows a trip might be limited to one.)

Now this analysis only matters if Hamilton hype will continue once the original stars leave. When the producers announced the $849 tickets, they said that it was an average of what scalpers were getting. That's true, but most of those scalpers were getting it from people who were buying tickets to see the original cast (pre-July 9) or thought they'd see the original cast. Pretty much everyone wants to see the original cast of Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda himself recognized this when he tweeted (emphasis his): "We're filming the original cast before I go. WE GOT YOU." Of course, while they are filming the original cast, there is no word when that recording will be seen by the masses. But, moving on, this tweet recognizes that the folks who have yet to see Hamilton are going to be disappointed they aren't seeing the original cast.

But do I think Hamilton hype is likely to plummet immediately upon their departure? Nope. Not unless the replacement cast is bad. Look at what happened in Chicago this week--people lining up 24 hours for tickets, tickets skyrocketing on the secondary market, etc.--all for a mounting that doesn't have an announced cast. The Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones was tweeting as the secondary market price kept rising and rising. Someone asked me earlier this week if you could get your money back if you purchased tickets for the Broadway production in late July assuming you'd see the original cast. The answer I believe is "not technically," but the secondary market will still oblige, so if you really no longer want to see Hamilton, the world has "got you."

Many hot shows on Broadway are not cast specific. Let's take a moment to examine Wicked, which had its own hit sit-down in Chicago. Wicked could have gone the way of The Producers. Remember how quickly The Producers faded when Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick left? Yes, it lasted six years, but it never regained the heights it once had (except when the original leads came back in). The New York Times' Ben Brantley revisited it and said of first replacements Brad Oscar and Steven Weber: "It is as if they had been shoved into someone else's custom-tailored suits and then asked to grow or shrink into the clothes through sheer willpower." Once the original two leads left, you could have seen any replacement cast. The first, second or third it wouldn't have likely made a difference to the normal audience member.

Wicked
, which is another show that depends on two leads, has kept its footing. There are people who have seen Wicked dozens of times and have different favorite Glindas and Elphabas. Looking back on it, as someone who saw the original cast, it was important to me personally that if I were to revisit Wicked, I see at least the first replacement cast. I've liked Jennifer Laura Thompson in pretty much everything. I knew she'd be completely different from Kristin Chenoweth. I knew Shoshana Bean could really sing. I knew she'd kill it vocally. These beliefs were supported during the performance. I'm happy I saw them. I've only seen two sets of leads since and liked neither set as much. But that is me--in Wicked fandom everyone has a different favorite, whether they were the first replacement or the seventh or from the tour or a sit-down. The woman sitting near me watching Bean in Funny Girl recently had seen Wicked 57 times and liked all but one Elphaba. People who have seen it only once generally like the folks they see.

I have a feeling Hamilton, as much as it depends on the chemistry among its leads, will be more like Wicked (and many other long-running shows), as long as the roles are well cast in the future. That would mean you could see any cast in the future. However it would also speak against this theory some people now have that they can wait two years and see Hamilton for cheaper. After all, if you're looking for great cheap Book of Mormon tickets even now, over five years into its run, good luck. Wicked, over 13 years into its run, is also still a hot ticket, frequently selling out even its premium seats. In that way, if you want to get in on the conversation related to any of these shows, you might as well see them early. Do it now if you can afford it and want to. Or should you? Might you save in the near future?

Hamilton brings Broadway into new, untested waters. While premium tickets still sell well at some long-runners, the premium price isn't as ridiculous. A premium seat at Wicked on a summer Saturday is now $242; The Book of Mormon tops out at $477. Here it is all the way to $849 in New York and that price applies to a whopping 200 seats per performance. No matter how good the coming casts are, whether the Hamilton phenomenon can continue at the level required to sell that many tickets at that price for years to come is a big question mark in my mind. I feel not, especially given various sit-downs and the tour, but stranger things have happened. I never thought we'd even be here. Hamilton has exceeded all expectations and changed what we all think of as the reality of producing theater.