It is only fitting that a show celebrating the man responsible for U.S. banking system is changing how money gets divided in New York theaters. Hamilton, the biggest smash on the New York theatre stages in decades, is also impacting the other shows on Broadway and raising discussions about whether or not it is changing the industry for good.
A new deal between Hamilton’s producers and original cast will allow the latter to share in the considerable profits for years to come and is leading to discussions about similar deals for other shows’ casts. The hip-hop musical is widely expected to sweep the Tony Awards this year. It is also expected to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, leading some critics to suggest musicals be treated separately from other plays to spread the wealth (even though it has been almost a decade since the last musical won).
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s astonishingly fresh and accessible musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton has consistently been the hardest ticket to get in Manhattan since opening last August. The cheapest seats are almost $200 face value, if anyone can find one for resale for less than $700. (The show is sold out completely for all seats that have been put on sale so far throughout the year.) The last musical this hot was Rent in the 1990s.
The success of rap musical on American history featuring a cast of color as the Founding Fathers that sounds like a history teacher’s creative approach to making the Revolution revolutionary was improbable. A Pulitzer Prize winning tome about Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, that few fans of the musical have probably read, inspired it.
The unlikely juggernaut breaks a lot of barriers: Broadway has diversity problems in terms of audiences and artists. Hip-hop music is not likely to appeal to Broadway’s largely older white audiences. The subject matter has little appeal. The cast is mostly unknowns (Miranda being the exception having won a Tony for In The Heights). Reportedly, the artistic director at New York’s Public Theater, opened his off-Broadway stage to Hamilton to honor a promise to try and expand the demographic reach of musicals, with obvious success.
Now, the producers are reaping at least $500,000 in pure profits each week, which will escalate as the national tour begins and the cash registers ringing increase in numbers. So the deal to share the profits with the original workshop is important.
As the television show Smash depicted, there is a lot of little paid non-public work that goes into developing a show. Many shows are developed using an Actors Equity union workshop contract, which typically pays actors approximately $631 and benefits for every coveted five-day a week gig, the right of refusal if the role goes to the Great White Way and a small profit piece. Other producers have favored an alternative Equity developmental lab contract, which pays actors $1,000 a week with no further promises. If a show makes it to Broadway after playing out of town or in smaller theaters, performers earn about $1,900 per week, with stars earning more.
The profit-sharing deal with the two dozen actors and dancers who were part of Hamilton’s development and initial performances is a major victory for the cast. It is also expected to have ripple effects in the theater industry, where actor compensation is a hot topic. Profit-sharing payments from the small amount of other shows with similar deals (Rent, Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) ranged from hundreds of dollars a year to a few thousand dollars every month. In the wake of Hamilton, the Equity union is looking at deals with other Broadway producers.
Other producers could view the new emphasis on profit sharing as a negative, the bottom line is that a show must be a hit for there to be profits to share. Hamilton has brought people to theaters who have rarely, if ever, gone. It is sure to draw a bigger audience for this year’s Tony Awards, which could lead the viewers to buy tickets to other productions featured on the show. This is the silver lining for the other new musicals this year that have to compete for attention with the behemoth.
The rising tide of Broadway profits this year has apparently impacted the other theaters too. According to the industry-trade group, The Broadway League, grosses so far this Broadway season are higher than the previous year, when there was no Hamilton. That show alone cannot account for the difference, but it is clear that Hamilton is changing Broadway now and for the foreseeable future.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Playbill: Hamilton Cast Will Get a Share of the Show’s Profits
Playbill: Hamilton Seems to Have Pulitzer Prize for Drama All Sewn Up
New York Times: ‘Hamilton’ Producers and Actors Reach Deal on Sharing Profits
Voice of America: Broadway Rivals Can’t Worry About ‘Hamilton’
Los Angeles Times: Broadway musical ‘Hamilton’ could teach Oscar a lesson on diversity
Production photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Broadway.com