Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has made history in numerous ways, injecting energy into the musical, populating the stage with people of color and bringing young audiences to a middle-aged Broadway.
But there’s one barrier in which the 11-time Tony winner is unlikely to make a dent: the lag between hit show and Hollywood film.
“I think the show will end up on screen without a doubt,” star and Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. said Sunday night at a Tonys after-party. “I just think it will be like 10 years from now.”
As with so many big Tony winners before it, Hamilton will take a circuitous path to the multiplex, if it gets there at all. Indeed, in the past decade, more best musical winners have come from films (three) than have been turned into films (one).
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No Hamilton rights have been sold, and at least one film producer said that when he sought to have a conversation about them, the show’s team politely said no thanks, at least for now.
Musicals are enjoying a mini-renaissance in Hollywood, whether in the form of the original animated piece Frozen or live telecasts of classics including The Wiz and Grease. So, why have new Broadway works not been part of this resurgence?
To a large degree, it’s because theatrical producers are reluctant to cannibalize sales of hit shows. Hamilton is raking in eye-popping numbers on Broadway, nearly $2 million a week. With a national Hamilton tour not beginning until spring, and with possible foreign engagements to come, producers are in no rush to kill the golden goose.
The cautionary tale is War Horse, the West End smash whose film adaptation came out in 2011, the same year the show opened on Broadway. The production ran only about a year after the movie opened, and some cite the film as the reason for the early shuttering. Why lay down a few hundred bucks on Broadway, many consumers reason, when there’s Netflix?
Audiences are also less likely to embrace a movie until the original theatrical version has receded from memory. The evidence? Some of the most successful modern movie musicals (Chicago, Dreamgirls) came a quarter-century or more after their Broadway openings. Toss in all of Hollywood’s usual development friction and creative disagreements, and you have a recipe for a lot of waiting.
Many of the longest-running productions on Broadway tend to locate a consumer sweet spot. Jersey Boys has the people in the New York suburbs. Wicked has teenage girls. The Book of Mormon has comedy-seeking tourists.
Hamilton has a cool factor. But to sell out for years, past a point when it’s novel and when many of the principals have moved on, a show needs to lock down an audience that will come reliably and repeatedly.
In this way, Broadway actually has a lot in common with Hollywood: Finding a target demographic is never easy.