At this stage in the “Hamilton” musical revolution, it’s easier to find fans than civilians.
The musical, whose national tour opens in Salt Lake City this week, has built a cross-generational, multicultural, politically varied following.
Conservative and liberal Utah legislators worked together to fund education programs assigning students to create works of art inspired by the country’s Founding Fathers.
“Hamilton” is Shakespearean in the way that the text and music conjure up images for listeners, says Michael Bahr, education director of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. “It’s working as a piece of theater in our minds,” he says.
The show’s groundbreaking popularity defies all cultural expectations, which means “it’s really a great time to be a theater kid in America,” he says.
Despite five casts performing the show in the United States and London nightly, “there are still more people talking about and singing and listening to ‘Hamilton’ than who have actually seen it,” Bahr says.
In advance of Wednesday’s opening at the Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City, we picked the brains of some Utah superfans to suggest how “Hamilton” virgins should prepare — or not.
Meet the cast
Joseph Morales, who plays Alexander Hamilton, and Nik Walker, who plays Aaron Burr, will share behind-the-scenes stories with Tribune arts writer Ellen Fagg Weist.
The Tribune event, with a Q&A, will be at 7 p.m. Monday, April 9, at the Grand Theatre, 1575 S. State St., Salt Lake City.
Tickets are $20 ($12 for Tribune subscribers). Visit https://bit.ly/tribhamilton for tickets and more information.
A toast to the bride
Shannon Herrera showed her obsession by buying front-row Broadway “Hamilton” tickets for her honeymoon months before she booked the Salt Lake City venue for her September 2016 wedding. Herrera, the co-chairwoman of the Utah Theater Lovers Facebook group, and her husband, Colt, wove “Hamilton” lyric references into their vows, ending with “I am not throwing away my shot.”
Advice • “Hamilton” virgins, if they haven’t already listened to the music, don’t need to start now, Herrera suggests. Just go in “with an open mind, and know if they’ve seen other musicals, it won’t be like that. Enjoy the music and the story for what it is. Don’t compare it to anything.”
She adds: “Particularly when you’re seeing a touring company, you run the risk of liking the [cast album] better.”
When you’re past patiently waiting
For Pamela Koldewyn, of North Ogden, her obsession led her to fly to New York in July 2016 on her own “Hamilquest.” She slept in line for two nights on 46th Street outside Richard Rodgers Theater for the chance to buy cancellation tickets. She had an urgent deadline because she wanted to see the show before creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and other original cast members’ contracts ended.
When she first joined the line, she almost couldn’t believe the sidewalk existed “outside of a setting for a Ham4Ham performance,” the videos posted of street performances for the show’s daily digital ticket lottery.
She had listened to the Broadway cast recording nonstop, including, fittingly, at her job at the Ogden office of the Internal Revenue Service, a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that Alexander Hamilton helped establish.
After three days in line, she claimed a front-row seat, and her enthusiastic response sparked attention from the actors, including a wink from Miranda at the curtain call. “Clearly, being the crazy, crying lady with the huge rictus smile on the front row is quite the attention-getter,” Koldewyn wrote in a blog post detailing her journey.
Advice • Koldewyn sees advantages to both approaches. “It would be amazing to be totally blown away by a new, immersive experience with no preconceptions,” she says. But being so familiar with the story and the cast recording allowed her to pay attention to set design, costume changes and the challenging choreography.
She adds: “It’s such a quick-paced story with dense dialogue, it would be really easy to miss the clever turns of phrase and wordplay that make the musical so brilliant and unique if it was a person’s first listen.”
What’s your name, man?
For political reporter Bryan Schott, superfandom is revealed in the family’s plan to name their next dog after the character of Hercules Mulligan.
And after a quick phone interview to talk about his “Hamilton” fandom, Schott, the managing editor of Utah Public Policy, couldn’t resist any longer. He bought another pair of tickets, his third set, for the Salt Lake City run. “I have probably listened to that [cast album] 1,000 times,” he says, and his wife and son are also obsessed. “I’ve never been touched by a piece of art like this.”
Advice • If you try to catch everything the first time you watch the show, “you’ll miss the emotional impact,” Schott says. He advises seeing the show again to catch other layers of the staging, like what’s going on in the upper balcony beyond the mainstage action. “I don’t think I could ever see it enough, seriously,” he says, which might not be helpful advice for those who haven’t won the digital lottery (sign up here) or without paying high prices on the secondary market. Also check arttix.org for released tickets.
Inspiring a musical self-starter
Calling Hailey Randall, 15, of Layton, a tad bit obsessive about “Hamilton” might be an understatement. She has worked with her voice teacher to learn the music, including King George III’s “You’ll Be Back” and a medley of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton’s songs. Hailey has shown herself to be the kind of self-starter that the teenage Hamilton was; she was just 14 when she sang to more than 900 people earlier this year at the Utah League of Cities and Towns’ Local Officials Day at the Legislature event.
Advice • As a superfan of the Broadway cast recording, she considers herself biased. “I think they should listen to it and get familiar with it,” she advises ticketholders.
Waiting in the wings for you
Nancy Jasperson, of Mapleton, has bragging rights as she has seen the Broadway show nine times. Of course she has a ticket-buying in: Her son Thayne Jasperson is one of the few ensemble members from the original cast still performing on Broadway. “He’s living the dream,” often biking to the theater and riding home afterward through Central Park, his mother says.
On one New York visit, she was surprised to watch her son stepping in to play Philip Hamilton, rather than his regular role of British loyalist Samuel Seabury. As one of the few white cast members, he also understudies the role of King George III. Jasperson says she has heard praise about the way her son plays that scene-stealing role, although she hasn’t seen him perform it.
Advice • Newcomers will love the show, she says, as the music is amazing and the whole show is captivating. “If you know the words, and listen to the soundtrack, you can hear the words a whole lot better,” Jasperson says.
The world will never be the same
The good ship “Hamilton” has provided a seismic shift in spotlighting diverse talent that the theater industry has needed for a long time. It’s also remarkable in the way it has sparked cross-aisle fandom across the political spectrum in Utah, and also cross-generational fandom, says Bahr of the Utah Shakespeare Festival.
Bahr has been an ambassador for the show since he watched the video of Miranda’s first performance of “The Hamilton Mixtape” at a White House poetry jam in 2009. Bahr can sing the musical “chapter and verse,” but he’s planning to see the show for the first time during its Salt Lake City run.
Advice • “I can’t believe as a ‘Hamilton’ virgin that you’ve been able to get a ticket,” Bahr says. If you haven’t listened to the album, “I guarantee you’re going to miss words in the production,” which he also guarantees will turn into a “Hamilton” singalong. On the other hand, he likes to imagine sitting in the first theater audience of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and feeling the reaction to the moment when Juliet wakes up.
This deer is insane, man
The Christmas-themed “Hamildolph” mashup video is Shayne Taylor’s ticket to superfan status. Taylor and his wife, Heather, of Centerville, wrote the mashup that his a cappella group, Eclipse 6, released two years ago. For this month’s Salt Lake “Hamilton” run, his wife recruited 10 friends to enter the digital lottery as a favor to secure the couple’s tickets.
Eclipse 6’s smartly produced, clever video went on to be viewed more than 5 million times on the group’s Facebook page. It got national media attention, including a social media mention from the official “Hamilton” website on Christmas Eve in 2016. The song has been wildly popular for the past two years in the group’s Salt Lake City Christmas concerts. “The bigger the [‘Hamilton’] fan, the more they geek out over the parallelism and the lyrics,” Taylor says of the reaction to “Hamildolph.”
Taylor says he is a musical theater fan from way back, making his stage debut at 6 months in a school production of “Cheaper by the Dozen” his father directed in North Ogden.
Advice • “Absolutely listen to the cast album — I don’t think it’s even a question,” Taylor says, because it is so musically dense. “If you have time to process it, if you know what it’s about, you’ll be able to enjoy the visuals and the performances. And you’ll be able to catch all the amazing things [Miranda] wrote into the lyrics. All the story is there,” he says, adding: “And it’s just an amazing album.”
What’s going on?
Chris Lino, managing director of Pioneer Theater Company, has advised board members to “pay whatever it costs” to see the show.
Advice • To those who say they hate hip-hop, Lino tells them just to consider it a work of genius. “It’s like going to a Shakespeare play,” he says. “You won’t get every word in the first 15 minutes, then you’ll adjust.”