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Is 'Hamilton' bad for Broadway?

the new duker

This winter break, while on a family trip to New York, I got a chance to see the new Broadway musical "Dear Evan Hansen." With music and lyrics by up-and-coming composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who recently took home a Golden Globe for their role in writing lyrics for the critically acclaimed film "La La Land," "Dear Evan Hansen" tells the story of a lonely high school senior who gets caught in a web of lies surrounding the suicide of a fellow classmate. 

I really enjoyed this show. I thought Ben Platt was excellent in the titular role and that Pasek and Paul’s score perfectly accompanied the heartwarming and at times tear-jerking story.

A few days after I had seen the show I was watching clips on Youtube when I came across a performance of one of the standout songs, “Only Us,” on "Today." Before Platt and co-star Laura Dreyfuss performed the number, they were briefly interviewed by "Today" co-hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford. In this interview, Kotb said something that really rubbed me the wrong way. “It’s a little crazy, isn’t it, the accolades already, the headlines, the people who are even comparing it to 'Hamilton.' How do you guys handle those kind of write ups?” The remark made me cringe. You can even see Platt shrug with discomfort, and who can blame him? Comparing "Hamilton" to "Dear Evan Hansen" is like comparing "Friends" to "Game of Thrones"; the only thing the two have in common is the mode they use to tell their respective stories.

It has become common practice in the media to reference "Hamilton" whenever the topic of Broadway comes up, and it makes sense. "Hamilton" is the type of musical that only comes around every decade or so. Like "Rent," "Wicked" or "The Book of Mormon," "Hamilton" has become part of American pop culture. Even someone who has never seen a Broadway show most likely has heard of "Hamilton" just because of its constant presence in the media. I’m sure Kotb’s intention when comparing "Dear Evan Hansen" to "Hamilton" was to spark the interest of their audience, but what it really does is cheapen the show. She might as well be saying, “Hey, you can’t get tickets to 'Hamilton,' so why not just see this instead?”

Don’t get me wrong. I love "Hamilton" just as much as the next guy. A year later I’m still listening to the songs, I can’t hear the name Eliza without hearing Philipa Soo’s voice singing it in my head and I even went back to see it a second time. I also believe "Hamilton" has made many positive impacts on Broadway. It brought much needed diversity to the Broadway community, pushed the boundaries of what is possible musically in theater and has made an entire generation passionate about not only theater but also American history. I think it’s deserving of all the accolades and success it has come across.

But at some point the world needs to move on and realize that there are plenty of other great new pieces on Broadway right now worthy of our attention.

I got a chance to talk with John O’Farrell, a British author and comedy scriptwriter who co-wrote the book to the recently closed Broadway musical "Something Rotten!" about his opinions on the impact of "Hamilton" on the Broadway landscape. O’Farrell also believes that "Hamilton" is worthy of its praises and is an amazing artistic achievement, but brought up an interesting point about how economically the demand for "Hamilton" tickets takes away box office sales from other shows.

“People are coming to New York and spending all their money on one ticket when instead they might have seen three or four shows," O'Farrell said. "And it’s not as if that money is going to the cast or the creatives. It’s going to credit card companies and bots that are buying up all the tickets and reselling them.”

According to a New York Times study, more than a third of the show's 1,321 seats are purchased on resale websites. On a site such as StubHub, a ticket that would normally go for around $150 or $200 may go for thousands. For Lin-Manuel Miranda’s final performance, a ticket which the seller originally paid $400 for was listed at $16,802.50. Of course this is outside of the show’s control, but there is no denying that money that would normally be going to other Broadway shows is instead ending up in the pockets of resellers.

“It’s the way that everything’s going. It’s the way that sports are going, it’s the way that the music industry is going," he went on. "There’s a small number of really, really successful things to the detriment of the wider creative community. Everyone wants to go to see Manchester United, or everyone wants to go see Adele, and I don’t think it’s healthy to narrow the range of what’s available to us as an audience.” 

While it is important to recognize the great achievements in the arts, it is just as important to make sure the artistic landscape is wide-ranging and diverse.

So, is "Hamilton" bad for Broadway? No, I don’t believe so. I think anything of its artistic caliber ultimately betters the Broadway community as a whole. But I do think the media is currently oversaturated with "Hamilton" press, which is quite ironic for a show that doesn’t need press. I think it would be for the best if new shows were allowed to stand on their own without being compared to "Hamilton" in the press. And maybe instead of paying way too much for a resold "Hamilton" ticket, visitors to New York can check out what else Broadway has to offer. Who knows, maybe they’ll stumble upon the next "Hamilton," and not have to sell the family mini-van for a ticket.

Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity freshman. His column, "the new duker," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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