‘Hamilton: The Exhibition’ by Miranda and his team debuts in November
“Hamilton,” the phenomenally successful musical written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, brought so much posthumous celebrity to Alexander Hamilton that America’s first secretary of the treasury kept his fragile spot on the front of the 10-dollar bill. But Miranda and his producer, Jeffrey Seller, are not yet done giving their man his shot after shot after shot.
Bowing this fall on Chicago’s Northerly Island: “Hamilton: The Exhibition,” an interactive, immersive, one-of-a-kind, only-in-Chicago attraction designed to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America.
“People want to learn more,” said Miranda in a recent interview at Tribune Tower. “It seems that two hours and 45 minutes of a musical were just not enough for them. I know from my Twitter account.”
Seller, the Broadway producer, said he had been inspired by the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in picking Chicago for the rollout, as well as by the city’s support of the musical. “We want this to be a journey through the lens of Alexander Hamilton,” he said, “into the creation of our country.”
Housed in an all-weather, temporary structure about the size of a football field, “Hamilton: The Exhibition” will be directed creatively by David Korins, also the set designer of the show, with help from Thomas Kail, the musical’s director. The Yale University historian Joanne Freeman and the Harvard University professor Annette Gordon-Reed are consultants to the project. Along with creative input, Miranda will provide narration for those touring the exhibition — mostly through his voice sounding in the visitor’s ear in an audio tour, but also, at various points, in video form.
Seller is in overall charge of this for-profit enterprise, which will rent the publicly owned land from the city.
“Hamilton: The Exhibition” will bow in Chicago on Nov. 17 and stay for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time before eventually moving on to other cities, most likely hewing to the touring path of the musical itself. Seller said he expected the exhibition to be in Chicago for at least six months, perhaps much longer. The structure that will house it will allow for approximately 27,000 square feet of exhibit space. Tickets will be timed and about 75 people will be able to enter the exhibit every 10 minutes. Although the daily hours have not yet been finalized, as many as about 20,000 people a week could tour the exhibit, if demand proved intense.
Seller said Sunday that the ticket prices had not yet been set but would likely be about $35 for adults and $25 for children, far less than the typical ticket prices for “Hamilton,” the musical. He said his goal was that every student group from the Chicago Public Schools, if not the whole metropolitan area, would be able to tour the exhibit for free.
“I’m very excited by all the new access to this story that this will offer to families,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a phone interview Sunday. “It wasn’t like they went city shopping. And they didn’t start in New York, as they did with the show. They came to Chicago and said this is where they want to be.”
Armed with blueprints and renderings, Korins described a series of rooms and scenes that will re-create many of the pivotal events in Hamilton’s life, all designed to offer an experiential re-creation of Hamilton’s personal trajectory from his childhood in the Caribbean Island of St. Croix through his crucial role in the fashioning of American democracy, all the way to his death in New Jersey at the hands of dueling rival Aaron Burr.
Once people enter at their designated time, Korins said, they will be free to move at their own pace within different immersive “pulses,” until they are gathered together to move en masse into the next section, allowing for the group behind to enter. Among other things, Korins described what he is calling “The Burr Hallway” and “The Pamphlet Tunnel,” as well as a re-creation of the Schuyler Mansion and the Yorktown neighborhood of New York City.
And, Korins said, there will be a re-creation of “the exact topography” of the infamous duel site of Weehawken, N.J., even allowing visitors to “stare down the barrel of a gun.” The experience, which is projected to take between one and two hours to complete, will end with patrons gathered in a theater, although not for a live show.
The tone of the exhibit, which is to be built in Atlanta but staffed in Chicago with a yet-unspecified number of local hires, is not unlike that of the show in its embrace of both humor and history. For example, the section dealing with Hamilton’s work as secretary of the treasury includes a Plinko-style arcade game designed to help visitors understand the impact of the federal assumption of the debt of the states and, Korins said, the whole exhibit is to be dedicated to the notion that “history is not inevitable.”
There has never been anything quite like “Hamilton: The Exhibition.” Certainly there have been exhibits dealing with the history of Broadway shows, and museum exhibits about Hamilton, but such exhibits do not enjoy unfettered access to Miranda’s music and lyrics. In the case of “Harry Potter,” now also a Broadway show, there has been both a studio tour outside London and a designated theme park area at Universal Studios in Florida.
Rock stars such as the Rolling Stones and David Bowie also have been the subject of touring exhibitions, sometimes performing below expectations, but they’ve lacked the educational peg of “Hamilton: The Exhibition.” And they have typically relied on museums to host them (and take a share of their revenue).
Seller, by contrast, is going it alone, with the help of the same talent that created the show. He declined to state the exact cost of his new investment, comparing it to the capitalization of “a typical Broadway musical.”
“It’s for-profit,” Seller said, “but that’s not why we’re doing it.”
Tickets for “Hamilton: The Exhibition” will go on sale at a later date at www.hamiltonexhibition.com. Sign up for ticket alerts; groups of 10 or more can contact Broadway In Chicago at 312-977-1710 and www.BICgroups.com.