I rarely win games of chance. Lotteries are not my friends. Raffles laugh in my face. Despite that, I love chance, serendipity, four-leaf clover type moments. Those things that you never expect to happen; and perhaps didn't even know you wanted.
As I say often, I LOVE going to shows during previews (the performances before official Opening Night, and a period during which the show is generally being fine-tuned). I especially love going to a show during previews, and then going back after it's ‟frozen” (generally, no more changes). It's absolutely fascinating to experience a show as it grows up :). Songs may come and go, scenes get modified, performers evolve their roles.
Groundhog Day, the new musical based on the 1993 Bill Murray film, started previews last night. Sort of. To my elfish surprise, I won, actually, WON, two tickets to the first preview! They dedicated the first performance to filling the house with winners of tickets and some social media folks, and the producers were there as well. It was set to be a grand night for fans. Spoiler alert: it was. GRAND.
The composer of Groundhog Day is musician, actor, lyricist, Tim Minchin, of Matilda The Musical fame (for which he won the Olivier Award and was Tony-nominated), and that prompted my friends and I to grab tickets to see the show in London last September. A very good decision; we loved it.
Fast forward 6 months, cross the Atlantic, and it's the first Broadway preview. The show starts, and I settle in, remembering how strongly the opening number pulled me in, and how the staging, using a turntable, so appropriately represents the turning of the clock. And then it happened. A critical failure of the set effectively stopped all 5 turntables from their appointed rounds (blame me for that pun). Punksutawny Phil was not having a good day.
From the angle we were seated, we could see a little unsteadiness the first time the all-important set piece of Phil Connors' Punksutawny guest house bedroom slide onto the stage, and stage hands were briefly visible as they adjusted the structure. It was not obtrusive, and most of the audience likely didn't see it. But about 15 minutes into the first act, the house lights went up, and the actors were asked to leave the stage.
A very calm announcement of a technical issue was made, and the house lights were again dimmed. We chatted amongst ourselves in the darkened house, and after a bit, a scrim lowered to cover the stage. Clearly, this was not going to be a quick fix. Having seen the show before, I was pretty sure that an inoperable turntable would doom the performance (no spoilers as to why :)), but it never occurred to me that they wouldn't get it working. My friend and show companion, Laura Heywood (@BroadwayGirlNYC, check her out on Twitter, and AOL's Build Series interviews!), commented that, if they couldn't get it fixed, they should continue the show in concert form at least. Smart woman. More about that in a minute.
Meanwhile, another announcement; this time from director Matthew Warchus himself (the crowd cheered just hearing his voice and knowing he was in the room). Matthew explained the fluke nature of what had happened, and that they were continuing to try to fix the issue, but they'd never had this particular problem. It might take some time, he said, enough time for the show to buy every single person in the audience a free drink! Cheers rose and, not surprisingly, a mad rush for the bars ensued. It was a most convivial crowd; I think we were all enjoying being part of the unexpected. The producers mingled, and the merchandise stand definitely benefited (despite a lack of a plush Punksutawny Phil! What's up with that??). After about 30 minutes, we were summoned back to our seats, and Matthew Warchus, Andy Karl (who plays Phil Connors) and producer Trevor Albert came on stage to tell us that the show could not continue [and, by the way, bad news just seems not so bad when delivered in a British accent]...BUT, we would all be given complimentary tickets to another preview performance of our choice! That really wasn't the best part. Free drink-good. Free ticket-good. A continuation of the show that night in concert form?-pricelessly great. They would do the rest of Act I with as much dialogue as possible, and then go through the main 5 songs in Act II. Yep, Laura called it!
The audience was, judging from the cheers, thrilled. And for good reason. We all knew this was unprecedented, and a chance to see a completely unique version of the show. When the scrim rose, all the various seating that could be corralled from the set was now filled with the cast in two rows that filled the stage side to side. They started from the point they'd left off in Act 1, with both dialogue, miming of action, and songs. It was truly amazing to watch this show come to life in a one-of-a-kind incarnation; it seemed spontaneous, joyful, and somehow fully itself. One of my favorite parts was the reaction of the cast members as they watched each other's performances. At one point, some of the second row stood up, or craned their necks and leaned over to see what was getting such a laugh from the audience. Andy Karl gave a fantastic performance; sublime physical comedy and his heart on his sleeve. Thc close of Act I got a standing ovation, and Act II featured Matthew Warchus coming on stage to set the context for the various songs. Not to be forgotten is the incredible job done by the sound and light crews, who spun on a dime to adapt to a show with virtually no set and no props. Truly amazing.
Last night was filled with all of the things I adore about live theater. Every single time a show is performed is different, not just the ones where the stars don't align, because the infinite combination of cast, audience, happenstance, weather, et al, make a new soup each time. As Phil Connors learned, no day is exactly the same, because you are not exactly the same. Do not ever underestimate your contribution to the show you're seeing as you sit in that theater. Every single cast member at the stage door was overwhelmed by the audience reaction, and willingness to take the ride with them. They talked about facing the unexpected, the pride in the proof that the show and story can stand alone, the joy at seeing their fellow cast members' performances (that they would not normally get the chance to experience), and the gratitude to the audience. I wouldn't have changed a thing.
Punksutawny...it's a helluva town. And it's got an awesome groundhog (musical).
Thanks to every single show person (cast, creative, producers, theater bartenders, marketing team) last night who kept smiling, kept calm and gave us a Broadway night to remember.
UPDATE: Andy Karl shared his thoughts on the evening here, and more details on the evening are in this Playbill article.
Here are some pics to capture the moments:
Broadway has gotten a little sweeter in anticipation of the opening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the stage musical, which joins the 1971 and 2005 films based on Roald Dahl's beloved book. The show is finally arriving in NYC after a long run on London's West End, where I first saw it in 2013, and again last September. I'm really looking forward to see the American production (it is being referred to as "retooled for Broadway"), most especially because Tony Award-winner Christian Borle is playing Willy Wonka! You'll remember him from his Tony-winning turns as Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher and William Shakespeare in Something Rotten!. Oh, and that television show [I still miss it!!!] Smash. No one does charmingly, irresistably sinister like Christian Borle!!
The show begins inside-the-theater previews on March 28 '17, but if you don't want to wait, you can enjoy the whimsy right now on W 46th St! I love the Lunt-Fontanne theater for its grand exterior, wonderful banner marquees, and good seating plan, but I don't think its facade has ever been put to better use, or stolen my heart the way it has with Charlie. I suspect there's a bit of Charlie in all of us...and maybe a smidge of impish Oompa Loompa as well...
Take a look at the "pure imagination"!:
Watch Christian Borle talk about Charlie...
I get lots and lots of questions about getting tickets to Hamilton because I've been fortunate enough to see the show multiple times. "There must be a secret you have," say my friends. Alas, no, I have no secret method, no insider pipeline. The good news though is that I don't/haven't done anything you can't do.
I would say that the single most important factor in my opportunities to see Hamilton more than once, and to see the original cast, has been my membership with The Public Theater in NYC. The Public, founded in 1962 by Joseph Papp, is a prolific incubator of new work. Their Lafayette Square home has five theater spaces, a music venue and a restaurant, and any given season will include all manner of productions, from workshops to full productions. The historic musical Hair, was born at The Public in 1967, and two recent Tony Award winners for Best New Musical, Fun Home (2015; now on tour) and Hamilton (2016), had their starts there. The Public doesn't offer subscriptions to the season, where you buy tickets to all shows in advance, but there are various levels of membership available, with benefits like early access to information and tickets, and some of which include advance, guaranteed tickets to the annual Shakespeare in the Park productions (free to the public, but only available the day of). How early your priority access is to the shows depends on level of membership, but it will still be before the general public. Memberships start at $65, and I've been a member for several years at different levels, primarily because I want to support the arts, especially new theatrical work, and I really like that, with membership rather than a subscription, I can decide on a show by show basis what I want to see.
Priority access to tickets is great, but the other benefit to Public membership is being introduced to new work before it becomes widely known. And that was the case with Hamilton. It showed up in the Public's 2015 season, and I was intrigued by a musical based on Alexander Hamilton (skeptical, mind you, but intrigued). I also knew Lin-Manuel Miranda was no stranger to writing successful musicals. So I bought a single ticket to the 3rd preview performance for $50. And then the word got out, and the entire run sold out before I could buy a ticket to see it again (which I immediately wanted to do after Act 1). But then it got extended. As a member, I was notified early about the extension. I jumped online and bought a pair of tickets, this time for $90/each. The friend who accompanied me thought I'd hung the moon by the time the house lights went up at intermission.
As expected, the show announced a Broadway transfer (to the media, not just Public members), and I immediately marked the on-sale date on my calendar. Then I made sure to buy tickets to two different performances at the same time, one before official opening, and one after (it's fun to compare how a show changes during previews!). I bought a single ticket for one show, and a pair of tickets to another, figuring I'd find someone available to go with me. I didn't check with people first, to see if they could go; that would have taken too much time, I just bought the tickets. I purchased one premium ticket in the front orchestra for my single ticket to treat myself (regular price, approx. $250), and the first row of the mezzanine for the second pair of tickets for about $150/each, knowing I'd likely be reimbursed for that 2nd ticket.
My Public Theater membership came in handy again when I was given the opportunity to attend a special performance and afterparty with the cast, to benefit the Public Theater. Despite how that sounds, I'm not a VIP at all, just a member, and the tickets (for show/party combined) were $500, with some of that constituting a charitable donation (for that amount now, you'd barely get a regular price ticket in the mezzanine). If you wanted to spend the money, and acted fast enough, you could go. At the request of friends, I also took advantage of an American Express presale for a new Broadway ticket release and the tickets were $199 each (regular price, side orchestra). Getting those tickets required lots of waiting on hold, and navigating a ticketing system rife with problems like nonfunctioning presale codes, etc. It wasn't pretty, but the tickets were mine at the end. So part of this is how much trouble you're able and willing to endure to see this show!
Aside from advance notice, and the willingness to try something new, the deciding factor, of course, is money. Hamilton tickets are expensive, even the cheap seats are not cheap anymore. Expect to feel lucky if you can get regular price tickets for $200 each, and expect them to be at the rear of the theater. No question, the show is worth that, and considerably more, but not everyone can, will or should, spend that money on a theater ticket, no matter how wonderful the show. Without discussing the financial wisdom of my choices :), the bottom line is that I spent various amounts on tickets, have never purchased tickets on the secondary market (be very careful with that option), and haven't ever regretted my decisions.
So, you know the show is happening, you're willing to spend money on tickets, and the next critical step (for any tough to get tickets) is advance planning, and the willingness to be flexible in your timing. Be ready to make quick decisions while you're making the purchase, especially if the site does not allow you to select seats yourself, but offers you the best available. I've learned the hard way that if you give up what they offered, thinking the next choice will be better, you will be disappointed. If tickets pop up, grab them. You might also consider breaking up your party to sit singly or in other combinations, rather than seating the entire group in a row. My friends and I often purchase single seats for the same performance to improve our seats, and potentially pay less. You won't be talking during the show anyway, so especially in the case of hard-to-get tickets, it may be the best way to go.
It is not often I can say this, but really, this show is great from anywhere in a theater. Not because every seat has a great view, some won't, but to borrow an overused line from the show, just being in the room where it happens is pretty darn great. If all you can get, because of price or availability, is the rear of rear balcony, take it. I've seen the show from close up, rear side orchestra and mezzanine, with multiple casts, and it's as good as you think it will be.
Currently, the Hamilton landscape has changed considerably with two sit-down productions in New York and Chicago (sit-down meaning no set end dates for the runs), a touring production starting in San Francisco in March '17, and a London production starting in November '17.
The London run is currently sold out through June '18 for the first booking period, but the theater is being renovated for the show, and future blocks of tickets will likely go on sale in the coming months. Keep checking the website, and, as they suggest, use Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date on availability.
Closer to home, Chicago currently has tickets on sale for Sep '17 to Jan '18. Also, when I was checking the San Francisco run for a friend a couple of weeks ago, there was not a seat to be had for any performance. But now, various performances are showing limited availability. Mind you, some of the tickets are over $800 at regular price (close up orchestra), but there are seats. The future cities on the tour (Los Angeles is next) have not gone on sale yet, but you will probably want to sign up to be notified by email for any city that might be a possibility for you. I wasn't going to try for tickets in Chicago (despite having friends there, and wanting to visit), and the tickets sold out, so I figured it wasn't meant to be. But then they announced a cast member (Joshua Henry as Aaron Burr, who will be playing the role on tour!)) of whom I'm a huge fan, and on a whim, I checked again for tickets and found one! It was a single seat, and, as always, pricey, but regular price, no mark up. I guess it was meant to be after all :).
My understanding is that for some cities on the tour, ticket priority will be given to those who subscribe to the current season as well as the Hamilton season. Even if the show is not arriving in your city until 2018 or even 2019, check the theater website (not just the Hamilton website), or otherwise contact the theater for specifics. Another possibility in some cities may be opportunities if you're a member of an organization, such as a teachers' association, to purchase tickets through them.
No matter which location you're eyeing, and depending on your level of motivation, the theater may have a cancelation line for each performance. For Broadway, there is also a day-of digital ticket lottery (as there is for a number of other shows; check todaytix.com for the app that will help you). Hey, someone has to win, right?? And, believe it or not, I know of people who have walked up to the box office on Broadway for a same-day performance and tickets were available. Expensive (regular price, not marked up), but available. My mantra: if you don't ask, the answer's always no.
UPDATE: The San Francisco run has announced a digital lottery!
I've been continually impressed by the Hamilton show website. It is well designed, and has all the information and links you might need. That said, just checking the website probably isn't enough on its own; social media, signing up for email notifications, and trying for some plain old luck of the draw are only going to improve your odds.
p.s. Just fyi, the current hot ticket at The Public is Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, a new musical from David Byrne (Talking Heads; Here Lies Love), and directed by Alex Timbers (Broadway's Peter and the Starcatcher, Rocky, & Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon).