How do Utah arts companies sell tickets in a “Hamilton” season?

Pioneer Theatre Company is aiming to attract “Hamilton” superfans by showcasing the nonstop talent of Lin-Manuel Miranda with a concert staging of “In the Heights,” the writer/performer’s first Tony Award-winning breakout.

It’s a classic example of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” marketing, as “Hamilton” is a once-in-a-generation theatrical blockbuster.

“If somebody would have said to you three years ago there’s a show that’s going to come here and sell out in five hours for a four-week run, with tickets on the secondary market for well over $1,000, you would have laughed,” says Karen Azenberg, PTC’s artistic director, who was an early appreciator of the Broadway phenomenon as one of Utah’s handful of Tony Award voters. “It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. It’s insane.”

“Everybody should see ‘Hamilton’ who can afford to see ‘Hamilton,’” Azenberg says of her theatrical competition, a national touring show that will play a sold-out run at downtown’s Eccles Theater on April 11-May 6. “It’s a terrific piece of theater.”

If you didn’t score “Hamilton” tickets, Miranda’s “In the Heights” drops some similar knowledge in its rap-infused, hip-hop musical styling. “His references are so wide and varied and theatrical and reverent to the craft of musical theater, and that’s all in ‘In the Heights’ as well,” Azenberg says.

And if you do have tickets, listening to “In the Heights” might prepare your ear for the lyrical speed of “Hamilton.”

Pioneer will perform the concert three times, March 16 and 17, featuring a full cast, with book-in-hand staging and minimal costumes. The cast will perform on the set of the company’s next show, “Twelfth Night,” which opens March 30. (Ticket info below.)

Courtesy photograph by Alexander Weisman) | Emily Vasquez (Nina) and Joshua Boone (Benny) in Pioneer Theatre Company's 2012 production of "In the Heights."

Miranda was hailed as “a sprightly new Harold Hill from the barrio,” and the musical described as a “salsa-flavored soap opera” by The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood in 2008 when “In the Heights” debuted on Broadway.

Remarkably, Miranda started writing the musical in 1999, his sophomore year at Wesleyan University. In a recent interview, Luis A. Miranda Jr., Lin-Manuel’s father, recalled when his son asked for advice on whether to take a full-time high school teaching job or work on finishing his musical.

As a parent, Luis Miranda said he wanted to advise his son to take advantage of financial security. As a musical theater lover, he wanted to advise his son to gamble on his art.

“In the Heights” is an unusual choice for Pioneer Theatre, as it’s something of a revival. In 2012, the company staged a full production of the musical, set in New York’s vibrantly multicultural Washington Heights neighborhood. Utah-based actor Carleton Bluford, who played Graffiti Pete, is returning to Pioneer for the concert to perform the role of Benny.

Bluford appreciates the musical’s passionate celebration of family and home. “This musical is a true mirror,” he says. “Regardless of what race you are, it’s written in such a way that anyone can relate.”

In adapting the musical for a concert staging, Azenberg says she is rediscovering the relationships at the story’s core. “And while the show itself is very much like ‘Hamilton’ in its wonderful pictures and bigness, its story and the words are really great,” she says. “It’s not sacrificing anything if it doesn’t have as much staging as a full production would.”

In another unusual bit of cross-promotion, Azenberg drew upon her longtime connections to “Hamilton” producers to buy 200 tickets for the April 26 performance. The University of Utah-based regional theater company is selling those tickets for $1,100 (which includes a $700 tax deductible contribution) to subscribers for its annual fundraising drive.

Producers across the country are sharing sympathy as they program their own schedules against the powerhouse of the national “Hamilton” tours.

“Is there a kid who doesn’t know the score of ‘Hamilton’?” Azenberg says. “Who says that about a musical in the last 50 years? Nobody knows what to make of it. You just sort of watch it.”

In the Heights

When • Friday and Saturday, March 16-17, 7:30 p.m.; also 2 p.m. Saturday matinee.

Where • Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $25-$40 ($5 more day of show), at 801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org

Hamilton’ ticket fundraiser • For more on PTC’s “Hamilton” ticket fund-raiser, call 801-581-6960.
Save the date

Join The Salt Lake Tribune for a “Hamilton” event April 9 featuring actors Joseph Morales and Nik Walker, who play Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in the touring production opening next month at the Eccles Theater. Ticket information on the event, which will be held at the Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College, to come soon at sltrib.com.
Twelfth Night

Shakespeare’s popular comedy comes to the PTC stage.

When • March 30-April 14

Where • Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $29-$44 at 801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org