I was in New York City one day during the height of the Hamilton Revolution. I’d never seen anything like it. As I approached the Richard Rodgers Theatre, I was met with hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of adoring fans entering the lottery and waiting to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in his ever so popular “Ham4Ham” pre-show. Since I hadn’t been to NYC in a while, and it may be the only time I’d get to see the original cast, I decided to join in on the fun. (Spoiler: I didn’t win the lottery, and I still haven’t scored tickets yet!) But I have to say, I felt like I was 12 years old again waiting to catch a glimpse of *NSYNC or The Backstreet Boys. (Don’t judge.) When did Broadway become so popular?
Growing up a musical theatre fanatic, I was certainly in the minority. I performed on stage instead of playing sports, I listened to cast recordings in my car instead of top 40 hits, and common names amongst my group of friends were Kristin Chenoweth and Bernadette Peters instead of the popular actor or actress at the time. Back then Broadway just wasn’t as “cool” as it is now. Sure, people had heard of shows like The Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis, Rent, and Wicked. But did they know every single word of the soundtrack like I did? Probably not.
Today, I think it is safe to say that almost everyone has heard about Hamilton, and a good majority has listened to the soundtrack on multiple occasions. Just the other day I heard a young girl spout off every word to the opening number without missing a beat. The popularity of the album is astounding. It debuted at number 3 on Top Rap Albums, and number 12 on the overall Billboard 200 charts. Following the 2016 Tony Awards, the album reappeared at number 3, making it one of only three cast recordings to reach the Top 10 in the last 50 years. So what makes this show so much cooler in the eyes of today’s market?
It’s rule breaking. I mean, the show is the story of our Founding Fathers, set to hip-hop music, diversely cast, and written by a Puerto Rican genius that rapped one of his acceptance speeches. Pretty cool. It goes to show that if writers want to have a new groundbreaking musical, they have to be willing to take chances. Most producers are still playing it safe, but in a way, that’s ok too. Due to factors like technology, movie musicals, and these new mega-hits, more people are branching out and seeing other shows as well. In 2016 alone, Broadway grossed $1,376,147,033. In the year 2000? $667,405,323.
Creating better audience accessibility, this new surge of movie musicals has allowed many non-theater-goers to experience a taste of what Broadway is all about (to an extent). And adding to the accessibility, phone apps like TodayTix are incredibly popular in our overwhelming age of the smart phone. Last minute discount theatre tickets are available with the touch of a button. Online lotteries have also made it easier to score some top-notch seats. Gone are the days of paying full price weeks in advance or waiting in line in the bitter cold or blazing heat.
Personally, I am excited for this new Broadway Revolution. Not only has it upped the theatre game, but it has created a new curiosity of an art form that was not always so popular amongst the general public. So, let’s see what Lin-Manuel will come up with next…and his colleagues.