Saturday, July 09, 2016

The Hottest Show, the Coolest Guy: On 'Hamilton' and Lin-Manuel Miranda, as he exits the show on Broadway tonight

Since the turn of the century, I have rather vociferously attended musicals, seeing more than 500 performances, including over 150 Broadway in Chicago presentations downtown. These have included the hottest touring shows and several pre-Broadway World Premieres.

On 17 visits to New York City and 8 to London, I have seen—always on my own dime—about 50 more, including several shows that were among the hottest of their given year on Broadway or the West End.

The Producers (with Nathan Lane & Matthew Broderick), Wicked (with Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel), The Boy from Oz (with Hugh Jackman, who I also saw in the play A Steady Rain with Daniel Craig), Nine (with Antonio Banderas), original casts of Avenue Q, Billy Elliot, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Mary PoppinsSpamalot, Spring Awakening, In the Heights, The 25th Putnam County Spelling Bee, Kinky Boots, The Book of Mormon and more. Cats in the last few weeks of its record-breaking 18-year run; Cabaret with Alan Cumming on its final Saturday night performance.

Besides those already named, I have seen legendary names of stage and screen in shows in NYC, London, Chicago and Los Angeles: Denzel Washington, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, John Lithgow, Jason Alexander, Kelsey Grammer and many more, including dozens of Tony winners.

Beyond theater, I’ve seen most of the biggest rock artists several times—Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pearl Jam, The Who, Radiohead, Prince, Madonna, etc., etc., etc.—and famous names in the idioms of jazz, blues, opera, classical, ballet, dance, comedy, magic and more.

I will be seeing Adele at Chicago's United Center on Sunday, after a sold out show by Peter Gabriel & Sting there on Saturday, and Duran Duran at Ravinia on Friday.

The reason I prattle on like this is to establish the credibility and wherewithal to say the following:

Hamilton is the hottest live entertainment event of my lifetime. 

Yes, a biographical musical about a U.S. founding father who adorns the $10 bill despite never being president, featuring a multi-racial cast devoid of marquee names--excepting, one hopes by now, its primary creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is leaving the Broadway production after tonight's show--who mix hip-hop with show tunes, has become not only the thteatrical phenomenon of 2015-2016, but the most consistently exorbitant ticket I have ever noted.

On StubHub, tickets for Saturday evening's performance at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York--Miranda's last as Alexander Hamilton--start at $2,000 each and go up to $30,000.

And even just next Wednesday's matinee--without Miranda--would seemingly cost at least $500 per seat (including StubHub fees).

To give you a sense of comparison, in August 2011, just two months after The Book of Mormon won a boatload of Tony Awards, was the hottest Broadway show in years and the hardest ticket I had yet come across, I paid $300 thru StubHub for a seat in the second row of the mezzanine for a Saturday evening performance in a theater 20% smaller than the Rodgers (the Eugene O'Neill).

Along with a 2003 concert by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at the smallish Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey--his home state--and a seat for the notorious Game 6 of the NLDS in 2003, when the Cubs blew their shot at the pennant, that's the most I've ever spent for a ticket to anything. (By a wide margin.)

Mind you, if the hot-but-cooled Cubs should happen to make it to the World Series this year, I imagine a single seat would start at $3,000, but that would be for--at most--four games (and likely not a deciding one) once in nearly an eternity.

Not a musical that plays 416 shows per year on Broadway--and will be coming to Chicago in September.

So no, I haven't seen Hamilton.

If I wanted to pony up, I might have had a chance when the show was still Off-Broadway at New York's Public Theatre when I last was in the Big Apple in March 2015, but even then all the Box Office tickets were sold out for every show and the aftermarket was relatively sky high. Plus, I saw four shows I really wanted to, including Cumming and Sienna Miller in Cabaret.

Last summer, my friend and Broadway in Chicago co-subscriber, Paolo, went to New York on a business trip soon after Hamilton had transferred to Broadway. He asked me what he should see, and I told him about the raves and buzz Hamilton--which was then still in previews--had gotten Off-Broadway.

Through associates, Paolo was able to get a pair of tickets--each priced far higher than what I had paid for Book of Mormon--and reported that it was as phenomenal and groundbreaking as the hype alluded. Like me, he's seen hundreds of musicals, and ranked Hamilton among his top 5.

Certainly I was a bit envious, but given my intermittent employment I couldn't really justify another trip to New York, let alone a Hamilton ticket at scalpers' prices (and unlike every other show named above save for The Book of Mormon, finding something through Ticketmaster, Telecharge, or the TKTS Booth doesn't seem an option, even for a single seat in the nosebleeds).

But if not getting to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton on Broadway is the worst thing that ever happens to me, even just in a superfluous, entertainment spectator milieu, I'll be an extremely happy man.

Especially as I saw him on Broadway in his Tony-winning first musical--written when he was attending Wesleyan University--In the Heights, which I loved and perceive as being groundbreaking in many of the ways for which Hamilton is being credited.

Based in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, where Manuel grew up, In the Heights brilliantly brought rap & hip-hop into the Broadway vernacular, while fusing new beats with more traditional musical theater sounds and stylings.

With Manuel--born in NYC to Puerto Rican parents--starring as a small shop owner named Usnavi, the show featured a heavily Hispanic cast and changed the look and feel of Broadway musicals, particularly blockbuster ones.

So I've been calling LMM a genius since 2008, long before he even began writing the music, lyrics and book for Hamilton, based on his having read the 2004 Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow.

Though I can't say I much loved Bring It On: The Musical, on which Miranda collaborated with Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, even though the songs he was responsible for were among the show's highlights.

But I can't wait to see Hamilton in its Chicago run, the first outside New York and expected to go at least 2 years once it starts on September 27.

And though lines circled the block downtown where the PrivateBank Theatre stands (I'll always refer to it primarily as the Shubert) and hopeful buyers clogged Ticketmaster for hours when the first 6 months of shows in Chicago went on-sale a few weeks ago--selling out entirely--I had a ticket reserved since February as a longstanding Broadway in Chicago subscriber.

In fact, if prorated as part of the $132 I spent to renew a 5-show subscription series (in the upper balcony), I will see Hamilton on October 4 for just over two Hamiltons and a Lincoln.

But in part just to see if I could, though also with expectations that I'd want to see Hamilton at least twice, I bought a lowest-price-level, face value ticket on Ticketmaster for a Saturday matinee in March during the mad rush of the on-sale.

Given that every Chicago performance listed on StubHub seems to start around $400, this too seems like a bargain.

And while Lin-Manuel Miranda has hinted that he might show up onstage in Chicago to cover a cast member absence, my regard for him is not any less in assuming I won't ever see him in this unprecedented success of a musical he has created.

Or even if I happen not to be as blown away by Hamilton as I expect to be.

For with caveat upon caveat about how perceptions of celebrities and others we don't actually know are just that, perceptions, I will also say this:

Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to be not just one of the most talented people in our midst, but truly one of the coolest.

I will not spend the next five paragraphs pontificating on the various connotations of "cool," nor continue to provide disclaimers about how famous folks may not really be what they seem. But in my world right now, based on an unscientific combination of their personas, the quality of their craft, their social enlightment, the way they sound in interviews and/or social media, and just their overall being, the coolest people I can think of--besides, of course, friends and family--are:

- Bruce Springsteen
- Keith Richards
- Joe Maddon
- Denzel Washington
- Stephen Sondheim

The late, great David Bowie had been on that shortlist, for reasons I tried to include in my tribute after his passing in January, and Lin-Manuel Miranda has now been for awhile.

If you're familiar with him, his creations, his personality and--among many other things--his voracious but brilliant, benevolent, funny and often moving use of Twitter, you likely understand what I'm getting at.

And if you're not, a few words from me isn't going to properly elucidate you.

But if nothing else, follow @Lin-Manuel on Twitter.

I am not a big Twitter user, mainly taking a gander when there is major breaking news, including the passing of celebrities I admire.

But Lin-Manuel Miranda seems to utilize it better than anyone else I've noticed, providing pictures of famous folks who have come to see Hamilton, glimpses into his many passions beyond his own musicals--sports, video games, movies, etc.--and some of the most compelling and touching commentary on the death of heroes or the terribly tragic events that keep happening all too often.

(Lin-Manuel's 652K Twitter followers means many people have become aware of him--the tally was about a third of that not too long ago--but compared to Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian having over 84 million and 46 million respectively, it seems almost criminal.)

Also, although it didn't tell me too much I didn't already know, you should read the recent Rolling Stone cover story on Miranda, which marked the first time I'm aware of that a Broadway star (or composer) made the RS cover.

I really liked Lin-Manuel's answer to the first interview question--by writer Mark Binelli--about his "biggest secret dream of what Hamilton could do":
"Honestly, my secret dream has already happened: I hoped the hip-hop community would embrace the show. Pretty much all of my other dreams had already come true on the last show. With In the Heights, I went from being a substitute teacher to being a writer, from not having a career in this world to having one. I don't think anything will ever touch that."
So, even with the humongous success of Hamilton, its creator remains extremely down to earth, and though he admits to having a healthy ego, he just seems genuinely, well, cool.

And for me, he's a prime example to contradict any sense some might have that my support for Bernie Sanders and derision for the consequences of Wall Street and the corporatocracy run amok means that I "hate the rich" and am simply envious of anyone who succeeds.

A full rebuttal to that line of thinking would require a lifelong dissertation, but my aversion is to criminal malfeasance on Wall St., sociopathic accumulation, tax avoidance and other aspects of egregious income inequality that has those with multiple mansions almost actively trying to further deprive those starving, sleeping on streets or otherwise struggling to get by.

Not a disdain for seeing people who work hard and achieve much enjoy the fruits of their labor--to whatever extent.

The Rolling Stone article posits that Hamilton could surpass $1 billion in ticket sales in New York alone. If all of that went directly to Lin-Manuel Miranda, I couldn't be happier for him.

As he noted, before In The Heights, he was a substitute teacher. And in creating Hamilton, it's not like he was crafting crass Hollywood franchise fodder. I try not to be a moron and yet I'm pretty sure I'd have no interest in watching even an hourlong PBS documentary on the life of Alexander Hamilton.

The fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda turned such a subject matter into the hottest live entertainment event of our times--though so far just in New York and soon Chicago--bespeaks his genius.

And don't forget, besides pricey premium tickets sold by Hamilton's producers, all those $2,000+ StubHub listings are enriching scalpers and speculators, not Miranda.

To learn more about the show itself, you can listen to the Hamilton original cast recording on Spotify and read the lyrics on the Atlantic Records website for the album. I've done both but not too deeply yet, so my appreciation is probably a bit more secondhand for the genius of Miranda's conceit, lyrics, mixture of hip-hop & showtune constructs and the distinct rapping and/or singing style he crafted for each of Hamilton's real-life characters.

So sure, I'll always be a bit wistful that I didn't get to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton on Broadway--also leaving the show after tonight are Leslie Odom, Jr., who plays Alexander Hamilton's nemesis, Aaron Burr, and Phillipa Soo, who was Hamilton's wife Eliza--but look forward to following whatever he does next. (All I've heard about is his starring in a movie sequel to Mary Poppins, a few years off.)

I know a few friends besides Paolo who have seen the show on Broadway, and several others who have gotten tickets for Chicago.

If you haven't, in either case, be aware that a small but substantial allotment of prime seats to Hamilton are put on sale for just $10 to every performance in New York, and will be in the Windy City.

Also shared in this revelatory interview with Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller by Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones is that thousands of students, including many from lower-income, inner city households, have seen or will be seeing the show.

Just that so many young people will be introduced to the wonders of musical theater in itself warms my heart immensely. And merely for creating such an ecumenical show, Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves all the plaudits coming his way.

The ticket lottery I spoke of has been conducted digitally at times--and probably will be in Chicago--but in seasonal weather it has been an in-person lottery at the Richard Rodgers Theater on 46th Street in Manhattan, drawing hundreds, perhaps thousands, hours prior to each Hamilton performance.

And further proving just how cool Lin-Manuel Miranda is, every Wednesday he has put on a free and often amazing #Ham4Ham performance for the crowds gathered outside for the lottery, accompanied by cast mates, Broadway luminaries, etc. You can see these on YouTube and through the Hamilton website, and should get even more of a sense that he's just a guy who loves life and appreciates his good fortune. 

So with tremendous appreciation for what he has created--onstage and beyond--and who he appears to be, along with a tip of my cap as he takes his final bow for now, I'll conclude this tribute with a few of my favorite #Ham4Ham clips.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Your masterful use of superlatives is duly noted.