Let's say you were really excited to watch Avengers: Endgame. But there's a problem. You could only watch it in one theater in the entire world, and it's in a city on the other side of the country, and each ticket is $700. But there's hope! The show travel, eventually, like years after release, but not with the original cast that made it a hit and the tickets. And tickets are still $700. That's what Hamilton essentially was, until it hit Disney+ this past Independence Day weekend -- a massive pop cultural phenomenon ... that almost nobody had the opportunity to watch until a live recording with the original cast was filmed and put on a streaming service.
How is this not a normal thing?
There are so many hit plays that we've heard mentioned somewhere, and maybe we've entertained the idea of watching sometimes, but we have to let that dream die thanks to the natural physical limitations of live theater and ticket prices that cater only to people at the front of the Snowpiercer train. A filmed version of Hamilton with the original cast shot toward the end of their Broadway run, and released on a major streaming service, ensured that it would quickly become an even bigger hit than it was when it was stationary. If the argument against democratizing live theater is that fewer people will be included to watch a traveling live show, well, sports don't seem to suffer that same fate. Every football game on a Sunday afternoon, every NBA playoff game, literally any NHL game, drops a little subliminal suggestion into the minds of the viewer: this is fun to watch at home, but it might be close to a religious experience in-person.
The people who lord over live musical theater only believe people will ever like their shows if they get to see it live and only live. Hamilton is proving that just isn't true. Right now, there's someone out there watching Hamilton in their underwear in some small town far from Manhattan who's discovering they actually love musical theater.
Outside of cast recordings that fail to capture the visceral feel of a live performance there's almost no way for that person to go down a Broadway rabbit hole the way we can when we discover a new Youtuber or a show on Netflix. The closest they can get is watching an over-blown movie adaptation, like Les Miserables with Huge Jackman, that's fine on its own but is so far removed from the magic of watching live performers nailing the entire play, from end to end, in a single shot. Plays, especially big musicals, don't need to be ephemeral. They don't need to be so exclusionary. They can be for all of us, if only someone cared to give it to those of us who haven't recently won the lottery.
Luis can be found on Twitter and Facebook. Catch him on the "In Broad Daylight" podcast with Cracked alums Adam Tod Brown and Ian Fortey! Check out his regular contributions to Macaulay Culkin's BunnyEars.com and his "Meditation Minute" segments on the Bunny Ears podcast. Listen to the first episode on Youtube!
Top Image: Disney