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Broadway Hit 'Hamilton' Makes Its Pittsburgh Debut

Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Ticket-holders stand beneath the Benedum Center marquee in downtown Pittsburgh.

Some folks had already seen it, some of them multiple times. Some first-timers studied up by listening to the cast album. Almost everybody waited online for hours for tickets. But this week, all of them began convening downtown for the Pittsburgh-debut run of “Hamilton.”

"Hamilton" continues through Jan. 27 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

The Benedum Center hosted the first performance of a nationally touring production of “Hamilton” on New Year’s Day. The staging is likely the biggest theater event in Pittsburgh in years. Even on the following night, the corner of Seventh and Penn avenues buzzed with activity an hour before show time. Some people shot selfies in front of the show’s poster on the building’s façade before making their way to the security-check line that snaked out the front door.

“I started listening to the musical about a week ago. So I’m excited,” said Kai Bailey, of Dormont.

“I waited online for about four hours,” said Maureen Babuscio, of Lower Burrell, who’d come with her teenage daughter and some friends. “I’m a big fan.”

The 2,800-seat Benedum was full, and that should be par for all 30 performances this month of the musical that brought America’s Founding Fathers into the 21st century. Composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking Broadway hit cast performers of color in main roles including Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and his score blended rap, hip-hop, R&B, and jazz with more traditional Broadway styles.

Credit Bill O'Driscoll / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Patrons line up to see "Hamilton" at the Benedum Center.

The 2015 show has been lauded for helping more diverse audiences claim the story of the nation’s founding. It’s told over the shoulder of Hamilton, the Revolutionary War hero and first Secretary of the Treasury who began life as a fatherless child on a Caribbean island (and ended it, sadly, as loser in a deadly duel with "frenemy" Aaron Burr).

The game-changing musical, inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography “Alexander Hamilton,” won numerous Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s broken box-office records on Broadway, and currently has resident productions onstage in both New York City and Chicago.

The touring production here – one of two currently circling the nation – is booked for a month, compared to the week allotted to most other touring shows hosted here by the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series.

That means more than 80,000 tickets were available for performances here. While some seats were set aside for Broadway-series subscribers, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust made tickets available to the general public online and at its box office on Nov. 5. Most were sold within hours, though as of this week a handful remained available for some dates, most at $190 or more. (On secondary online markets, the low price was similar.)

However, there’s another option: For every performance, the Cultural Trust is making 40 tickets available for $10 each through a lottery.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: bodriscoll@wesa.fm
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