Why ‘Hamilton’s’ coattails aren’t as long as they should be

Written by

“Hamilton” opens tonight at The Pantages in Hollywood, however in an unusual move, only a few large media outlets will be able to attend and review the play. That is perfectly within the rights of those producing the show – which does not need much help selling tickets. After all, Lin Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical is closer to a cultural phenomenon drawing younger and more diverse audiences to the theater.

There’s a part of this that is good commercial theater practice. When you are running a production where the bottom line is all-important, you want to limit the number of free tickets you give away. You want to maximize your profits which, in the case of this blockbuster with its national tours and original Broadway run, will be counted in the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars.

Why does it matter if “Hamilton” is restricting press access to the show? If it’s good for the bottom line, isn’t it good for business?

If you think about the theatrical ecosystem, the answer is no.

“Hamilton” is a once in a decade production. It’s captured national attention in ways few other piece of theater ever do. It will attract an audience that never considers going to the theater. It’s a goldmine for its producers, investors and original creators but it’s only one show.

For most of the folks working on this production, once it closes – they need to find another gig. They need the rest of the theater ecosystem to be healthy. Even this hit show needed another part of the non-profit theatrical ecosystem to get it’s start – namely The Public Theater where it found its first production.

By limiting media access to this show, ”Hamilton” is bypassing an opportunity to help media outlets grow a slightly larger more diverse audience for arts journalism. As the expansive coverage in the Times hints, this is a story that will drive eyeballs and clicks. It’s possible that readers might consider another piece of theater.

Which leads me to the extensive LA Times coverage.There were more than 12 pieces on Hamilton in the paper last week (at one point last Thursday every story on the Times’ culture blog was about “Hamilton”). Like the production, this was smart business for the Times but it is striking in its singularity. Our home town paper never devotes this much space and attention to a local production at the Mark Taper Forum or the Geffen Playhouse (or, economic gods forbid, a smaller production). Of course,”Hamilton” will make hundreds of millions so it deserves this kind of attention. One can only hope that the “Hamilton” coverage is a success for the Times in ways that allows them to offer more features for local theater in the future (but I am not holding my breath).

So should you go see “Hamilton?”

Of course, if you’ve got the means buy tickets but if you do consider making a deal with yourself to spend just as much money on another local show. Do your own part to strengthen the rest of the ecosystem. “Hamilton’s” bottom-line will be just fine. Everyone else’s could use a little help.