I fell in love with Hamilton through a discounted soundtrack. Before shelling out the money for it, my only experience in with the now Tony award winning play was through Tumblr gifs. And I knew immediately that it would likely be the only means by which I experienced Hamilton’s magic. As a Midwestern girl, I’d have to take on the expense of getting to New York at all, but the cost of travel pales in comparison to the ticket prices – and that’s only if you can get tickets (the show is sold out until January). Hamilton‘s popularity, and scalpers selling resale tickets, hiked ticket prices north of $800. Desperate to see the show, one teenager started a GoFundMe to get her to the show, and she had to raise $1200 to see it. As a debt-ridden college graduate moving back home in July, I don’t have $1200 to spend on a musical production (even one as undoubtedly incredible as Hamilton), but that’s true of most of us.
Based on Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography (it’s long and not nearly as interesting as the stage adaptation), Hamilton gave the finger to “historical accuracy” and filled its cast with actors and actresses of color and filled its music with rap and hip-hop influences. Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s unique take on America’s founding, and one of its Founding Fathers, has earned him and the rest of the cast reams of critical acclaim and several Tony awards.
It’s also spawned a book, Hamilton: The Revolution, chronicling the musical’s inception and success. It’s pages are splashed with beautiful full-color photos of performances and annotated lyrics and gives background information previously unknown to the fawning public. I gobbled this up as soon as possible, looking to just get a little bit closer to “seeing” the show without actually, you know, seeing it. I read the book while listening to the soundtrack, replaying songs so they could keep up with their respective chapters. This is as close as I’ve come to the magnetic performance of Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, as near to Renee Elise Goldsberry’s awe-inspiring performance of “Satisfaction”, but I’ve taken it.
I’ve grabbed onto whatever I can of Hamilton and drawn on it for comfort and encouragement and mostly inspiration. One of the gifts of Hamilton is its ability to show you what can come of hard work and perseverance and an inclusive and creative vision. It’s something that everyone, especially young people of color (some of which may be considering a life as a creative), deserves to see. The usual lack of POC onstage makes Hamilton‘s determination to paint the founding of America in the shades of present-day America more necessary for young people to see. But they don’t all have access, and it’s not as if theater is exactly exploding with shows of POC-casts.
Despite what this year’s Tony Awards would have you believe, theater is still a pretty white venture, and we’re just crossing our fingers hoping the success of Hamilton (and Eclipsed and The Color Purple) encourage more shows featuring actors and actresses of color.
This doesn’t mean the people behind Hamilton aren’t doing what they can to make the show more accessible. There’s a lottery that sells tickets for $10 to lucky winners and matinee performances are held for NYC public school students. But Hamilton is a phenomenon too big to be adequately shared by these means.
Soon a tour will cross the United States, landing Hamilton in theaters including the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, my hometown. Only time will tell if the trend in exorbitant pricing continues even on tour, but the Fox (as well as other theaters anticipating the show’s arrival) believes tickets will go fast. While dates and pricing haven’t been announced, the theater says the best way to guarantee tickets is to buy the very expensive season long subscription. While that would ensure I got my Hamilton tickets, I’d be paying for a bunch of other shows, too. Even when the show lands in other cities, it may only be available to the wealthy (and usually white) theater-goers who wouldn’t blink at purchasing season tickets, or who could afford to buy the astronomical resale price tickets.
That’s why people cry for a movie adaptation of Hamilton. It may not be the same as the theater production, it may not even have the same cast, but it’s still a more accessible look at a story that people are desperate to see. While Miranda has revealed that Hamilton, with the entire original cast, is being filmed there’s still no word on what the recording will be used for. We assume it’s going to be for public consumption, but there’s no definite word and no release date. In October, PBS will be airing Hamilton‘s America, a documentary about the show. I’ll consume that as ardently as I have everything else, but the documentary isn’t the same as the show. Like Hamilton: The Revolution, despite its inside look at the show’s production, it would only bits and pieces of the larger picture.
I’ll cross my fingers for the Fox production to be way less than $1200. If it is, even my smaller than some income would still allow me to see a moderately-priced performance even if it took a chunk out of my bank account. Others don’t have the privilege, and those are the people who need Hamilton most.
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