The "Hamilton" Effect in Minnesota
In some ways, "Hamilton" is just like any other visiting Broadway show; but in others, it’s in a league of its own
illustration by Brent Schoonover
On a late-August Sunday, the show rolled in on 11 trucks. This is an average number—The Lion King had 24 trucks in 2016—to set up for its first show the following Wednesday, with the 35-plus-person cast starting to come in to the Twin Cities on Tuesday, not to mention the 45 members of the company and crew.
At a six-week run of 46 shows and about 120,000 tickets total, Hamilton’s clout is in line with some of the biggest hits the Orpheum has seen in recent years, including Wicked, The Book of Mormon, and The Lion King. But Hennepin Theatre Trust media relations manager Dale Stark is quick to admit there’s more buzz than usual around Hamilton.
“We opened here almost three years after the show opened on Broadway, but the momentum is still there,” he says. “There’s still this newness to the show.”
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the hip-hop musical based upon the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton quickly rose from off-Broadway to Broadway in New York in 2015. With its fresh approach to historical storytelling and the casting of non-white actors in key roles, the show busted box office records, earned President Obama’s praise, and won 11 Tony Awards. And it has shown no sign of slowing down as it has broadened to markets around the U.S.
“The content drives this new wave of theatergoers,” Stark says. “We’re going to have a lot of people who are coming for the first time, not only to the theater, but to downtown Minneapolis.”
Anticipation took hold immediately when the show was first announced in December of 2016. What followed was the unique two-year marketing campaign where, if you purchased 2017-18 Broadway on Hennepin season subscriptions, you would be first in line for eventual 2018-19 subscription sales—all to get first dibs on Hamilton tickets. The strategy worked: ’17-’18 subscriptions rose 40 percent, and ’18-’19 subscriptions were up an additional 30 percent, according to Jim Sheeley, the Broadway Across America regional president for the Upper Midwest.
When this season’s subscriptions went on sale in February, the Broadway Across America site crashed, and about 100 people showed up in person to sign up. In mid-June, a line of more than 200 ticket buyers snaked along Hennepin Avenue outside the box office nearly 12 hours before the remaining Hamilton tickets went on sale. That included Brian Hollingsworth, who got in his car at 4 a.m. and drove from St. Cloud to get tickets to a show he had already seen in Chicago. The local TV news stations ate it up. As one man in line said, “When it comes to something like this, it’s time to stop and smell the roses.”
To the people working at Hennepin Theatre Trust and Broadway Across America, getting Hamilton to come to Minneapolis this soon and for so long was exciting, but not surprising given the Twin Cities’ proven appetite for musical theater tickets. Still, no matter how many weeks the Twin Cities could have gotten Hamilton, it wouldn’t have been enough.
“All of us in the business thought we knew how to handle blockbusters. There’s Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Wicked. This is at a whole scale order of magnitude bigger,” says Mark Nerenhausen, Hennepin Theatre Trust president and CEO. “Hamilton is such a groundbreaking show, not only because it’s the hot ticket but what it says and who it speaks to and the larger messages—I think it’s an important show for that reason, too.”
Hamilton plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis from August 29 to October 7
photo by Joan Marcus, Hamilton National Tour
Recognized as a contributing factor to keeping Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, Hamilton takes historical figures off of their pedestals and highlights the significant contributions of immigrants throughout U.S. history—using modern hip-hop lyrics and rhyme schemes. “This is a story about America then, told by America now,” Miranda said in a 2015 interview with The Atlantic, “and we want to eliminate any distance between a contemporary audience and this story.”
This past summer, the State Theatre hosted its annual Spotlight Showcase, a highlight of nonprofits for high school theater education programming and support. One of the medleys the students chose was based upon songs from Hamilton. When it was finished, the auditorium erupted with the cheering of 2,000 enthusiastic high school students.
“The Hamilton story isn’t just that Hamilton was coming,” Nerenhausen says. “It’s that Hamilton was already here.”
The Orpheum’s Broadway On Hennepin ’18-’19 Season
Aug. 29-Oct. 7, 2018
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Oct. 22-27, 2018
The Book of Mormon
Nov. 6-18, 2018
Dec. 18-30, 2018
On Your Feet!
Jan. 22-27, 2019
Rock of Ages
Feb. 8-10, 2019
A Bronx Tale: The New Musical
Feb. 19-24, 2019
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
March 6-17, 2019
April 16-28, 2019
The Play That Goes Wrong
May 7-12, 2019
Dear Evan Hansen
May 28-June 9, 2019
Fiddler on the Roof
July 30-Aug. 4, 2019