‘Hamilton’ Mania at a Tent (Yes, Tent) Near You
Posted May 7, 2018 11:09 a.m. EDT
So you’ve seen the musical. You’ve memorized the cast album. You’ve read the book, you’ve downloaded the app, and you’ve streamed the bonus track videos.
Here comes another way to indulge your “Hamilton” mania: a high-tech, interactive, traveling exhibition.
The musical’s creative team, following other pop culture phenoms from “Star Wars” to “Downton Abbey,” has created “Hamilton: The Exhibition,” which will open in November in Chicago, where the musical has been running since 2016, and then move to other cities.
The project differs from other brand-extending entertainment-industry gallery ventures in one key respect: Because this musical is a work of nonfiction, based on Alexander Hamilton’s life, the museum-style exhibition aspires to historical accuracy, and has been developed in consultation with experts at Yale and Harvard. The exhibition’s creators — much of the same team that put together the musical — say they are seeking to answer questions asked by the show’s fans.
“There was no way of anticipating the fact that ‘Hamilton’ has sparked this interest in this era, and in this founder who didn’t really get his due,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and original star of the musical, said. “This is much more historically rigorous than two hours of musical theater could ever possibly be, and it really is to satisfy the demand of people who learn a little bit in our show and want to know more.”
The exhibition’s creative director is David Korins, who designed the set for the stage musical; the company behind the project is Imagine Exhibitions, which has produced similar programs delving into “Angry Birds,” “The Hunger Games” and many other popular titles. The other key players include Jeffrey Seller, the musical’s producer; Thomas Kail, the musical’s director; and Joanne Freeman, a Yale history professor whose research helped inform the musical.
“There’s a spectrum of responses to the musical among academics, but to me this is the supreme teaching moment for early American history — not to teach the play, but to use it to teach,” Freeman said. “To understand what America is, we have to understand the past, and if people come away from this exhibition having a sense of all the people engaged in this big debate over who had power and who didn’t, and the contingencies of that moment, and thinking ‘This is kind of interesting,’ that would be wonderful.”
The exhibition, with an audio guide narrated by Miranda, parallels the arc of the musical, leading visitors through the life of Hamilton, starting with his childhood in St. Croix, and moving through his immigration to New York, his military and political careers, his family life, his writings, his scandals, his death in a duel and his legacy. A Harvard legal historian, Annette Gordon-Reed, has been asked to assist with historical accuracy.
Some of the features will be visceral (an opportunity to look down the barrel of a gun alongside a reconstruction of the Weehawken, New Jersey, dueling grounds), and others will be academic (an explanation of the debates over Hamilton’s financial policy ideas.) There will be artifacts — mostly replica letters, documents and objects as well as a scale model of New York in 1773, a walkway between military barracks, video, and, yes, music from the show.
Marked by a 60-foot-high statue of a quill, the presentation will be housed in a large stand-alone tent (250 feet by 100 feet), and is scheduled to open Nov. 17 on Chicago’s Northerly Island, a Lake Michigan peninsula near several popular museums. Tickets are not yet on sale, but are expected to be about $35 for adults, about $25 for children, and free for students from schools with high percentages of low-income families.
Although such exhibitions have become a common way for the entertainment industry to cater to, and profit from, the passion of fan culture, “Hamilton” appears to be the first stage work to attempt one. That reflects the unusual success of the musical, which opened in 2015 and is now the highest-grossing show on Broadway each week. The musical, which won a Pulitzer Prize as well as 11 Tony Awards, also has productions running in London and Chicago and two touring North America.
Seller said the exhibition will be financed by investors, and will seek to turn a profit; he declined to specify the cost of building or operating the project. But he and Miranda said profit is not the primary motivation. “Economically we don’t need to do this,” Miranda said. “This is just another stab at sharing our enthusiasms.”