Will 'Hamilton' suffer after the loss of key principals?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — She was spending a sweltering afternoon on the streets of New York but Caitlin Goddard was nearing her prize, inch by inch.

She'd been in line for three nights and two days and the end was in sight: a chance to see "Hamilton" on Broadway. She and a buddy had changed their flights home to spend much of their holiday in New York on the show's cancellation line.

"There have been times I've waited in line for a few hours and I felt, 'That's crazy!' This is the first time I've ever actually camped out for a ticket. And I still think I might be a little crazy. But it'll be worth it," said Goddard, who lives outside Detroit.

Few Broadway musicals make people crazy like the Tony Award-winning smash "Hamilton." Tickets are going for the price of a used car, the theater is so routinely swarmed that police use barricades to manage the crush of fans, and some people are spending days in line for a chance to buy a full-price ticket.

This weekend, the hip-hop musical about the Founding Fathers faces one of its biggest tests when it says goodbye to three principal members — Lin-Manuel Miranda , creator and original Alexander Hamilton; Leslie Odom Jr ., who won a Tony Award as Aaron Burr; and Phillipa Soo, a Tony nominee who portrays Eliza Schuyler.

For many "Hamilton" fans, Saturday will mark the chance to brag about whether they saw the original cast or not — and Goddard knew which camp she wanted to be in.

"We wanted to see the show but we were OK to wait for a while. It was definitely finding out that so many of the principals were leaving that we were like, 'OK, we have to do it now!'" she said.

Many long-running Broadway shows including "Jersey Boys," ''The Phantom of the Opera" and "Chicago" have gone through numerous cast changes without losing momentum. "Wicked," for example, survived the loss of Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel.

But not every show is immune. Take "The Producers," the musical based on Mel Brooks' 1968 movie that broke theater records when it arrived in 2001. It set a new record for one-day ticket sales, it invented the $480 premium ticket and set the record for the most Tony Awards. ("The Producers" won 12 Tonys, still a record.)

It might have been expected to run forever, but was gone from Broadway just six years later, unable to survive the loss of original cast members Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.

"Hamilton" came to Broadway with no huge well-known names in the cast. One original cast member has already left — Jonathan Groff — and some are staying, including Tony-winner Daveed Diggs and Tony-nominee Renee Elise Goldsberry.

Most theater experts say "Hamilton" will make the transition Saturday without any lasting damage. They say the Grammy- and Tony-winning music and Pulitzer Prize-winning story are the real stars.

"One of the reasons the show is a big hit is the staging and the energy of it. That excites audiences," said Ken Bloom, producer, director and author of "Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time" and the upcoming "Show and Tell: The New Book of Broadway Anecdotes."

"I think that 99 percent of the population doesn't know who is in the show. It doesn't make any difference to them," he added.

Catherine Rodgers, professor of theater at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, said that while Miranda, Odom and Soo will be missed, the musical will march into history without them.

"To me, the plot and the story is so strong — and the music is just so incredibly rich — that I don't think they'll have problems maintaining what's beautiful about that show," she said.

It's inevitable that fans will have to start getting used to "Hamilton" without Miranda and the rest of the Broadway cast: A Chicago production will open in October and a touring production begins a 21-week run in San Francisco in 2017. A London production is slated for 2017.

But there is clearly a thirst to see the original cast members before they scatter. Rukkus , a secondary ticket marketplace, reports the average price for Saturday night's final show for Miranda, Soo and Odom is $3,391. After that, the number cools off substantially. Post-Saturday, the average price is $1,286.

Amy Wert of Spartanburg, South Carolina, was one of the lucky ones to get to see the original cast. Her mom bought tickets in January and she was bouncing up and down outside the theater Wednesday before the matinee knowing it was one of the last performances featuring Miranda.

"We're seeing it before Lin is leaving!" said the teenager, who before seeing the show for the first time could sing virtually every song in the cast album. "We'll catch him just in time."

She saw the show with Goddard, the woman on the cancellation line who looked a little dazed as an usher finally escorted her into the theater. She was classy enough to look behind her and wave goodbye to her fellow line-waiters.

"It's exciting but we've all become such good friends in line that I'm just genuinely happy that they're getting in," she said.


Mark Kennedy can be reached at