So now we know who Hamilton was and how this theatrical juggernaut started but what about the show itself. In this second part of our Hamilton Beginner’s Guide we look briefly at the Public Theatre tryout season and the phenomena of Ham4Ham.
HAMILTON: THE BASIC PREMISE
Somewhere along the line as Hamilton was developed a tag line started to be used when speaking abou the production – “Hamilton is the story of American then told by Americans now”. This simple yet bold statement allowed for some of the most diverse casting in musical theatre history. Miranda said “It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.” He noted “We’re telling the story of old, dead white men but we’re using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.”
By creating a fusion of hip hop and traditional musical theatre story-telling, Lin-Manuel Miranda was able to tell Hamilton’s story without dumbing down the subject matter. The choice to cast the show using actors from all ethnic backgrounds was to be the ultimate in colour blind casting and added yet another layer to the rich tapestry being created by Miranda, Director Thomas Kail, Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and Musical Director and Orchestrator Alex Lacamoire.
Hamilton was given several small workshops along the way as development of the musical progressed finally arriving at New York’s Public Theatre in January 2015. The Public Theatre is perhaps best known as the venue that developed and started the journey for Broadway’s other home grown mega hit A Chorus Line. The Public Theatre Season was sold out for its entire run so the decision was made to transfer the show to Broadway.
HAMILTON TRANSFERS TO BROADWAY
It was announced that Hamilton would transfer to Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre. The Richard Rodgers had also been the home of Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical In The Heights. It was reported that the show took over $30 million in advance tickets sales prior to its official opening and the word was out. Hamilton was something special.
Miranda made the show’s lottery an extra special event. Like most Broadway and West End shows Hamilton offers a lottery before every show. Twenty one seats are available for $10 each (No coincidence that this is the note on which Hamilton appears). Miranda created mini-shows right before the lotteries were drawn. Called Ham4Ham these shows became hugely popular with the resulting crowds causing conjestion problems in front of the theatre. Ham4Ham officially ended on 31 August 2016 after a year of performances. Many of the performances were captured on video by Howard Sherman and can be viewed on You Tube. Ham4Ham shows often included casts from other Broadway shows. We’ve included a few of our favourites here.
In Part 3 we’ll look at the reaction to Hamilton opening on Broadway.