Why 'Hamilton' is likely to close in Chicago a year from now

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- On Wednesday, the Marcus Center in Milwaukee, the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison and the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wis., all said they would host the hit musical "Hamilton" during their upcoming 2019-20 seasons. Advance notice like this is not unusual with "Hamilton." The musical's engagements typically have been announced far in advance, allowing venues to sell two years of multishow subscription tickets on their backs. And, up in the Badger State, neither precise dates nor length of the runs were announced.


Appleton is about 195 miles from Chicago. Madison is about 147 miles. Milwaukee is about 92 miles. And "Hamilton" will be playing all three of them? Wow.

In other words, beginning in 2019, the Chicago production of "Hamilton" will lack geographic exclusivity or, in industry parlance, "clearance." If you live in Green Bay, or Madison, or Milwaukee, you will no longer be motivated to purchase a flight and a hotel room, or to point your car in the direction of Chicago, where you'd also eat and shop. You'll wait and see the show in your own backyard. If you live in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Milwaukee will be just as close. You might head there instead.

Thus all signs now point to the Chicago production of "Hamilton" leaving Chicago at the end of 2018 (long my prediction for the end of run), especially since "Hamilton" already has announced a return to San Francisco in February 2019, and it would make sense to move the Chicago company there.

The producers of "Hamilton" said they had no comment.

"Hamilton" opened in Chicago on Oct. 19, 2016, and continues to play in the Loop at what is now known as the CIBC Theater.

Once "Hamilton" exits, it will most certainly be back at some point, or rather points. Still, if I am right (and things always can change), the show will have run here for about two years and two months, a hefty engagement by historical standards but significantly less than the run for "Wicked," which played for 31/2 years (and is back again right now). While the "Wicked" musical "sat down" in Chicago, it could not simultaneously be seen anywhere closer than St. Louis. In other words, its territory was protected.

Behold the dilemma faced by producers of hit shows -- and note that they handle it in different ways. You typically are under pressure from both investors (who love the money) and artists (who love the exposure) to roll out your hit in as many markets as possible. You can imagine the excitement, and the pent-up demand, in a city like Madison at the news that "Hamilton" is coming to town. But you cannot do that without dampening demand in the select cities where the show already is playing, especially when one of them is just a short drive away. In these days of complex and variable pricing, that doesn't mean you are likely to see many empty seats at "Hamilton" in Chicago or New York, but it does mean that the price people will pay will start to fall.

If this were a "Freakonomics" podcast, and let us pretend it is, we'd also be talking about how time alone also impacts that pricing power, in that a hit show is only hot for so long. Yes, even "Hamilton." Everything is finite. It's also worth noting here that the "Hamilton" producers can't differentiate between, say, the Chicago "Hamilton" and the Madison "Hamilton," not in public, anyway. On the contrary, they will do everything in their power to make the productions as similar as possible, lest they dilute the overall power of the brand. Disaster that way lies. They would never let anybody in Chicago say that the production here was superior. On the contrary, they'll do everything in their power to stop any such comparisons. Just watch. "Hamilton" has to be "Hamilton." A-game in every city.


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