Lin-Manuel Miranda gets it.
The hip-hop writer, composer, actor (really, what doesn’t he do?!) knows what audiences want. If you need proof, just take a look at his musical Hamilton, the most talked about musical since, well, I really can’t remember a musical that was talked about this much. I mean, I wanted to go see this musical before it even got to Broadway, simply because people were talking about it. I don’t even like history OR hip-hop music, yet I was itching to see this musical just to see if I thought it lived up to all the hype surrounding it. I actually kind of feel bad for any other musical opening on Broadway this year, since Hamilton has pretty much dominated the Great White Way and shows no signs of backing down. It’s kind of like going to a football game where by the end of the first quarter the score is 49-3 and the winning team keeps scoring points.
Like I’ve been pointing out for a while now, today’s audiences want to feel connected to the shows they see. And that’s exactly what Lin-Manuel does. He finds simple, yet unique ways to connect audiences to his show.
For starters, he’s a huge presence on social media, and he has a way of making everyone feel like they know him. For example, a year or so ago (before the Hamilton craze started), he held a Facebook chat for his Twitter followers. He simply posted on Twitter that anyone who left him a comment on Facebook would receive a reply. So of course I jumped at this opportunity to head to his Facebook page and tell him that I was working on some theatre blogging and was having a hard time concentrating because my son was playing with one of those Simon toys. Remember that toy? The one with the four colored lights that make a pattern that you need to repeat? If you remember it, then surely you remember the annoying sound it produces. Anyway, I digressed… So I went to Lin-Manuel’s Facebook page, posted about a simple part of my day, and lo-and-behold Lin-Manuel replied with a comment about the toy and a link to a crazy 80s commercial he found of the toy. I don’t remember the exact exchange, but I sure regret not taking a screen shot of it! My point is that he made me feel a personal connection to him. For three minutes out of my day, I had a perfectly normal online conversation that could have easily been with my neighbor, but it was with Lin-Manuel Miranda. And if he made me feel that way, just think of all the other people he replied to that day. It was one morning out of his life that he dedicated to really connecting with people.
So back to Hamilton. Lin-Manuel brings this kind of personal connection to his musical, and it’s paying off big time. So what, exactly, does he do? Well, let’s start with the #Ham4Ham lottery that takes place before each show. As many Broadway shows do, Hamilton has a lottery to give away discounted tickets to each performance. But where most shows simply have a line that forms a few hours before the show, Lin-Manuel takes it one step further. He makes the lottery itself a mini-performance, with actors such as Kelli O’Hara, Matthew Morrison, and Jonathan Groff making brief appearances before some shows. So now, not only are people talking about Hamilton, but they’re also talking about what happens before the show. Heck, even Matthew Morrison took to Instagram to say “One of my favorite things to do between shows is getting incognito and seeing the #Ham4Ham show!”
Now, as if the show isn’t already getting enough attention, today something else happened to set the Internet on fire with Hamilton buzz. They pre-released their album, which is set to digitally release four days from now on September 25. Not only did they pre-release it, but they pre-released it for free on NPR. So anyone can head to http://www.npr.org/2015/09/16/440925873/first-listen-cast-recording-hamilton to listen to the entire album. For free! Any guesses as to what I’ve been listening to all day? Seeing as how I haven’t seen the show myself yet, I was curious to see if I would even like any of the music since I’m not much of a hip-hop fan. Let me just say that after listening to about two songs I was hooked. And I mean hooked. The music is just downright genius. Yes, there’s hip-hop in it, but there are also beautiful orchestrations and melodies that really bring together a traditional musical theatre sound with a fresh, modern sound. I really do see what all the hype is about, and now I want to see the show more than ever!
So here we have a quality production with amazing music that is redefining the American musical. And on top of that, it has a passionate creator who really knows what an audience wants out of a show. And that, my friends, is why Lin-Manuel Miranda gets it.
Kim Barger is an audience engagement specialist who focuses on creating unique ways to connect audiences with musicals. Learn more about Kim and Row L Seat 1 at www.RowLSeat1.com or connect with Row L Seat 1 on Facebook or Twitter.