What it's like to be on Broadway when you're not 'Hamilton'
NEW YORK (AP) — The man of the moment on Broadway is, without question, Alexander Hamilton. With all the hoopla and hubbub, it's tempting to think all the other shows are Aaron Burr.
Imagine working on a big new show for years, pouring millions into it and then finally finding a Broadway theater, only to discover that all anyone wants to talk about is the cool nearby rival?
"Trust me, there were many times where I was hoping we could be in next season because there wasn't the 800-pound gorilla in the room," said Tony Award-winning composer Duncan Sheik, whose "American Psycho" opens this month. "It was a conversation that happened many, many times."
"Hamilton" generated plenty of buzz downtown at the beginning of 2015 before its inevitable jump on Broadway last summer, fast-tracked for bigger success. People have called it historic and a game-changer — and that's just rival artists.
Zachary Levi, former star of NBC's "Chuck" and now starring on Broadway in the revival of "She Loves Me," admires "Hamilton" as a "juggernaut beyond all juggernauts." He's very happy for their cast — and also happy that his show is in a different Tony category.
"If we were a brand-new show, that would be a little harder. Then it's like, 'Good, lord. We're trying to just eke out something and they're everything,'" said Levi, laughing. "There are things in life you can't control."
New musicals that have arrived in the shadow of "Hamilton" include "Waitress," ''Bright Star," ''Tuck Everlasting," ''American Psycho," ''On Your Feet!" ''School of Rock" and a retelling of "Shuffle Along." Revivals of "Spring Awakening," ''The Color Purple" and "Fiddler on the Roof" join "She Loves Me."
Might any have skipped their Broadway chance, seeing the way "Hamilton" has made its way into the culture in an unprecedented way, from "Saturday Night Live" to "Inside Amy Schumer"? Wouldn't it have been wiser — using "Hamilton" language — to throw away their shot?
Not likely, said producer Ken Davenport, who chronicles the business of theater in the widely read blog, The Producer's Perspective. "Broadway shows are like giant steamer ships. Once you get them in the water and moving, it's very hard to just stop them," he said.
Locking in an A-list director, starry stars and landing one of Broadway's 40 theaters available during a window when the creative team is also available is a small miracle. There's little time to check what else is coming.
"You can't say, 'Oh, we're just going to stop it because "Hamilton" all of a sudden was expedited.' If you've got that port open for you, you're going to make it," said Davenport, who helped produce a cracking revival of "Spring Awakening" and the George Takei-led "Allegiance" this season.
Christopher Ashley, artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse in southern California, has been feeding Broadway such shows as "Chaplin," ''Hands on a Hardbody," ''Side Show" and "Doctor Zhivago." He doesn't have a show this season on Broadway, but that's not by design.
"You have to look where the culture is going. But you can't try to go, 'What is this season in New York on Broadway going to be like?' That would be a terrible way to make a piece," he said.
There's a silver lining to the massive buzz over "Hamilton," which easily makes $1.5 million a week and is expected to earn multiple Tony nominations. Interest in Broadway as a whole increases, and if eager theatergoers can't get into the 1,321-seat Richard Rodgers Theatre, there are 39 other Broadway theaters waiting to welcome them.
"I think it's really good for us," said Jesse Singer, whose Act 4 Entertainment is helping produce "American Psycho," based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel. "I think both shows, in different ways, are pushing the boundaries of traditional musical theater. And I think that's great for the art form. I think it moves it forward."
In fact, a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats refrain is common on Broadway these days in the wake of "Hamilton." As Levi said: "It's good for Broadway. It's good for art. It's good for young artists."
Box-office data seems to bear that out. The Broadway League, the industry's trade group, reported Monday that total Broadway grosses so far this season stand at $1.208 billion, higher than the total at the same period last season — when there was no "Hamilton" — of $1.201 billion.
Barry Weissler, a veteran Tony-winning Broadway producer who has led such revivals as "Chicago," ''Gypsy" and "La Cage aux Folles," has brought "Waitress" in this season and said he didn't want to work around "Hamilton."
"We embrace it. Hopefully, they embrace us," he said, adding that "Waitress" celebrates old-fashioned musical storytelling, whereas "Hamilton" was a fresh approach. "There's room for all of it."
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