Broadway, and far beyond Broadway, may be processing the news that creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda will be leaving his blockbuster musical Hamilton on July 9. But as often happens, the show will go on.
In just a year on Broadway, Hamilton has gone from musical hit to cultural landmark. It’s currently nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony awards and is expected to sweep the competition at the June 12 ceremony.
It may be the only show in history to have an impact on government policy—its success convinced the Treasury Secretary to keep Alexander Hamilton’s image on the $10 bill. (The $20 bill is being replaced, instead.)
But the unspoken secret is that while Miranda is one of the great creative geniuses of his generation (with a MacArthur genius award to prove it), he’s not one of its great actors.
There’s even a good chance that his fellow cast member Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, will beat him in the Tony competition for best actor in a musical.
While the current actors are incredibly strong and deserve the Tonys they are likely to grab, Hamilton is such a perfectly articulated show that it would be hard for anyone to blow it.
Three actors have already had the small but scene-stealing role of King George. Brian d’Arcy James, Jonathan Groff, and Andrew Rannells each brought their own stellar style to the part.
Some of the other current cast members may follow Miranda out the stage door. There are reports that they’ve asked for more money, but the real issue may be creative exhaustion rather than finances. For most actors, a year doing the same show is enough.
The actors who’ve been involved since the beginning (the show was developed in workshops) recently signed an unusual deal to get a share of the box office profits.
Miranda already has a reported 7-10 percent share of the box office take—which could ultimately make him very rich. Wicked has taken in $1 billion at the box office, and Hamilton could easily surpass that.
Ever since the show’s first Off-Broadway incarnation at the Public Theater, Miranda has sat out several performances a week to take notes from the audience. Having an understudy in the title role never seemed to detract from the overall power of the production.
When President Obama took daughters Malia and Sasha to a Saturday matinee last July, Miranda wasn’t scheduled to appear—and he didn’t change his plans. He sat in the audience and joined the First Family in giving a standing ovation to understudy Javier Muñoz.
The music, story, and production Miranda created for Hamilton are so strong that they can survive any number of cast changes. While the producers haven’t yet announced a replacement for Miranda, Muñoz has been appearing once a week. He’s had strong reviews and is an obvious choice.
Miranda may be leaving the Broadway cast after one year, but the show has been his life for many years now. He rapped the opening song for the first time at a White House poetry jam in May 2009. He was back at the White House this March, rapping with the president.
Hamilton currently has the highest average ticket price on Broadway and had a gross of $1.9 million last week. Because it plays in the relatively small Richard Rodgers Theater, that’s not even the highest on Broadway. (The Lion King was higher at $2.07 million.)
Many long running Broadway shows including Jersey Boys, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Book of Mormon have gone through numerous cast changes with very little change in ticket sales.
Hamilton’s 16 Tony nominations broke the record of 15 first set by The Producers, which opened in 2001. That show was far more dependent on its stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick than the much more powerfully written Hamilton. When Lane and Broderick left after a year, ticket sales briefly cooled and the actor who replaced Lane was fired after just four weeks. But the show got back its momentum and played on Broadway for another five years.
Productions of Hamilton around the country—which were never intended to include Miranda—are already generating huge ticket sales.
Some locations, including the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., are encouraging people to buy two year subscriptions in order to get access to early tickets. In Chicago, which will be the first road company to open in September, tickets are already at stratospheric prices.
In New York, where tickets are still almost impossible to get for much under $500, long lines form outside the theater for the daily lottery where front row seats go for 10 bucks. Several times a week, Miranda and fellow castmates go outside to perform for a few minutes—so that even the lottery losers feel like winners. Whether the new cast will continue that tradition is yet to be seen.
Hamilton is virtually a gift to any actor who appears in it. Miranda’s presence is in every word—and doesn’t require him to be on stage.
As for tickets to Miranda’s final performance? Don’t even ask.