I feel a lot of our blogs start off with a trip overseas, but I guess widening your horizons (literally) is the best way to inspire for some creative thinking.
It was my first night in New York City where I found myself in Times Square hoping to see a Broadway show. I probably should have planned the outing a little better, because rocking up to the ticket window at 6pm didn’t leave me with many desirable options. Despite having a wish-list of shows in mind to see; Aladdin, The Lion King, Wicked, all were sold out and it looked like I’d have to settle for a lesser known or off-Broadway show.
In what I now refer to as the stars aligning, a ticket reseller behind me cried out that he had two spare tickets to see Hamilton, which started in an hour. I had heard nothing about the show, except that it was a hip-hop based musical about the first US Treasury Secretary and Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton – which hardly matched the other shows on my wish-list. However, after much convincing from the reseller, and even some passers-by that this was a golden opportunity, I took a chance and got the tickets to the show, which I would describe as one of my most memorable experiences while in the US.
So, how did Hamilton: An American Musical manage to go from being unbeknown to me to something now near and dear to my heart? And, of course, most importantly, what can brands learn from it?
The Hype: Now before I bought my tickets I wasn’t aware of the hype surrounding this musical, but a quick internet search while scoffing down a burger showed me just how proliferated the musical is, in the States at least. Selling out while performing off-Broadway, the show then sold $30 million in advance ticket bookings before its official Broadway opening. The show was much touted by Michelle and Barrack Obama, with the writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, being asked to perform excerpts of the show at White House functions. Obviously, being prompted by the POTUS or winning 11 Tony Awards will help any brand, but the true hype of the show was further reiterated by some New York locals I had met later that week, saying that they had to wait months to get a chance to see the show, and were completely stunned at how lucky I was to get tickets on my first day in NYC, an hour before the show started.
Writing Yourself in the Story: This one doesn’t apply to me unfortunately, but rather the creator of the show. Lin-Manuel Miranda not only wrote the music and lyrics of the production, but stars as the main character, Alexander Hamilton. The writer and character do actually share some similarities (being born in the Caribbean and moving to New York in search of success while overcoming adversity). But beyond that, it’s the fact that Miranda is willing to showcase this piece of work himself, literally putting himself in the limelight, to ensure the show’s success. After spending a whole year just writing the opening number of the show, there is no doubt Miranda is passionate about his project, and gets to be the one to deliver it to his audience.
Redefining the Genre: I’m a huge fan of music in general, but not so much for musical theatre. Nevertheless, the Hamilton soundtrack rapidly became my most played on Spotify this year (and I know the words all every song nearly back to front). That’s because Hamilton isn’t simply your traditional spate of show tunes with some jazz hands thrown in for good measure. Miranda has used rap and hip-hop as a powerful vehicle to portray the story of the Founding Father who’s more than just the face on the US $10 bill. Then there’s the almost entirely African-American and Hispanic cast, which before viewing seems superfluous, but upon reflection makes complete sense. Using the casting itself as a device to tell the story of a young and scrappy country, rising against a hegemonic rule, in order to gain independence.
Now, I’d hate for this blog to turn into an essay, so I’ll quickly list some other reasons why Hamilton: An American Musical has become an incredibly successful brand; the shared experience of seeing the play live, and the exclusivity that goes along with it, the fact that it’s as educational as it is entertaining, that I got sucked into listening to Miranda’s other productions In the Heights and 21 Chump Street, and above all else, that it’s just a bloody damn good show.
Now much like a lot of other good American brands, it just needs to break into the Australian market.
By James Shelley