How the ‘Hamilton’ Effect Is Reverberating Across Broadway

Call it the “Hamilton” effect.

As Broadway’s newest megahit dominates the Tony Awards conversation, the theater industry is buzzing about all the ways in which the ultrahot musical’s success will reverberate across Broadway as a whole. The idea is that a rising tide lifts all boats — that is, a headline-grabbing smash brings so much attention and interest to Broadway, it can only benefit the industry overall.

On a national level, that’s undeniably true. The show’s astonishing reach has already given a major boost to the touring Broadway market, while the youthful appeal of the hip-hop-infused, Grammy-winning music has begun to seed a new crop of potential lifelong theatergoers.

“One big, attention-grabbing show is good for Broadway, because it really does stimulate theatergoing overall,” says Philip J. Smith, chairman of the Shubert Organization, owner-operator of 17 Broadway venues.

For the regional organizations whose bread and butter are touring Broadway shows, a smash like “Hamilton” provides a shot in the arm to the subscriptions that sustain them. Ticketbuyers pony up for an entire season of programming in order to guarantee tickets to one hot show — and with “Hamilton” on the docket, the increase has already been huge.

At San Francisco presenter SHN, for instance, having the show on its 2016-17 slate is helping to drive subscription sales at such an astonishing rate that CEO Greg Holland said he expects the membership tally to double its total from the previous season, to a whopping 40,000.

“One big, attention-grabbing show is good for Broadway, because it really does stimulate theatergoing overall.”
Philip J. Smith, Shubert Organization

Jeff Chelesvig, president and CEO of the Des Moines Performing Arts Center, doesn’t have “Hamilton” on his 2016-17 lineup, but the venue’s announcement of the show for a 2017-18 run has already caused a spike in interest. “We immediately saw an uptick in new season-ticket sales,” he says. “And our messaging is clear: By getting season tickets this year, you’re getting the best possible seats that you can then renew next year, when ‘Hamilton’ comes to town.”

Another boon for the industry could come in the new theatergoers that “Hamilton” stands to attract. If those first-timers like what they see, they’ll probably try another show and soon be on their way to becoming habitual ticketbuyers.

“The best sales tool for seeing shows is seeing a show,” says Jordan Roth, the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns six Broadway venues. “It’s why the Disney shows have been such an essential part of introducing people to the theater. Any show that can be a threshold show for new audiences will have a ripple effect for all of Broadway.”

And beyond, adds Holland. “We’ve seen a huge surge in balcony subscriptions,” he notes, referring to lower-price subscription packages for SHN’s 2016-17 season. “We’re reaching a much younger ticketbuyer — ticketbuyers in their 20s and early 30s, who don’t usually buy subscription memberships.”

On Broadway, the “Hamilton” impact isn’t as easy to quantify — and many posit that the fallout isn’t entirely positive.

Some subscribe to the theory that New York visitors seeing “Hamilton” might pick up tickets to another show — or two or three — as long as they’re in town. Others worry that, due to sky-high demand and a booming secondary market, “Hamilton” tickets have hit such an exorbitant price point that anyone driven to see the show at any cost will have spent so much to do so that they’ll be less likely to shell out for another production. There are also concerns that the all-“Hamilton”-all-the-time press coverage is keeping the season’s other titles from getting noticed.

A look at the numbers proves inconclusive. “Hamilton” has been running all year, but the overall Broadway totals remain about on par with last year’s figures at this time. As of week 48, season-to-date cumulative sales for 2015-16 are $1.3 billion – almost exactly the same as at the same point in the 2014-15 season. The 12.2 million attendance represents a rise of just 1.4% compared with the prior season.

Mixed Messages
“Hamilton” attendance is fairly flat, and some worry that high ticket prices could impact B.O. for other shows.
$1.3b Total Broadway B.O. for ‘15-’16 season
$12.2m Attendance in ‘15-’16 season
$1.4% Attendance growth over ‘14-’15 season

So it remains to be seen whether the New York-based Broadway economy will get a noticeable boost from “Hamilton” in the near future. And that’s just one of a number of outstanding questions — including whether sky-high national awareness of the title will cause a surge in viewership for the chronically low-rated Tony Awards (airing June 12 on CBS).

“Hamilton” could have repercussions backstage, as well. A recent profit-sharing pact between the producers and the show’s original actors highlights an issue poised to become significant in future labor negotiations between the two sides. “It’s an important development; first, in terms of recognizing the actor’s role in developmental activity, and second, in recognizing the new economics of Broadway, with megahits getting numbers that were previously unheard of,” says veteran attorney Ronald H. Shechtman, who represented the original cast members in the “Hamilton” deal.

The industry’s debate over the “Hamilton” Effect echoes similar discussions among Broadway types any time there’s a new media-darling smash, such as “The Book of Mormon” or “Wicked” or “The Lion King.” But for some, the “Hamilton” frenzy stands apart even from those past successes.

“Everybody’s clamoring about it; everybody’s talking about it. When was the last time you saw a show get this kind of attention?” asks presenter-producer Al Nocciolino, who until recently was the Broadway League’s vice-chair of the road. “This one feels enormous.”

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