The cast of the hit Broadway musical "Hamilton" is about to head back to the room where it happens...or rather, the house where it happens. First Lady Michelle Obama will host the cast at the White House on Monday. According to a press release, the visit will include performance of musical numbers, as well as a student workshop and Q&A. Show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has been to the White House before — In 2009, he performed an early version of what would become the opening number of the show.
In New York, “Hamilton” is making a lot of money on Broadway. The rap musical about the architect of American business is a hit with critics and audiences alike. The show has racked up more than $60 million in advance sales, according to the production team. (And it’s not just Broadway cashing in. A recent Democratic Party fundraiser charged donors $10,000 a pair for prime seats and a photo op with President Obama.)
As audiences pack the theater night after night, the show’s economic impact is stretching beyond the theater, driving attendance at cultural sites and serving as the centerpiece for a big educational investment.
Hamilton set the tone for American business that echoes to this day. But he has often been in the shadow of other founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Now, Hamilton’s star turn on Broadway is driving new interest in his story.
Creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda realized just how powerful that impact could be when on stage for what he says was the show that had him the most nervous. It wasn’t opening night, but rather a crowd of high schoolers. Miranda wasn’t sure how they would react to a scene depicting the famous debate pitting Hamilton against Jefferson and Madison. The topic is far from a crowd pleaser. But reimagined as a freestyle rap battle, the young crowd went nuts.
“When we did that first cabinet battle, which is about the assumption of state debt, by the way, people were screaming like they were watching '8 Mile' for the first time,” Miranda remembered. “That’s when I knew we had something really special.”
He wasn’t the only one who noticed the play’s potential to get young people excited about early American history. Recently, the Rockefeller Foundation granted $1.46 million to fund a program where educational partners will create a special American history curriculum that’ll include a trip for New York City public school students to see the play.
Cultural institutions in town are also seeing a boost in interest and attendance, such as his gravesite at Trinity Church in the financial district. Archivist Anne Petrimoulx has seen increased interest since the musical became a hit. Visitors are now asking more detailed questions, including about lesser-known figures in Hamilton’s orbit who show up in the play.
Nearby, the Museum of American Finance is also seeing visitor growth. Its room dedicated to Hamilton is typically only one draw among various exhibits about banking, Wall Street and money. Now, visitors head straight for it. Sensing an opportunity, the museum advertised in the Broadway musical’s program. Museum staffers are especially excited about the more diverse crowd showing an interest in Hamilton, including more younger visitors than usual.
“The fact that it’s a rap version has created a great impact,” said Ben Urizar, the museum’s assistant director of visitor services. “We have seen a large amount of young people, let’s say middle school and high school age, come in here and saying, ‘we can identify with this character.’”
A play that’s a giant business success is also becoming a powerful educational tool. Alexander Hamilton, with his passion for finance and fierce appetite for learning, would probably approve.
“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VABEFORE YOU GO