Saturday, August 6, 2016

How To Get Two Front Row Seats at Hamilton for $20 aka How Kit Won Life For a Day

For me to win seats for Hamilton I had to do a whole lot of things wrong.

Let me explain. And before I explain, let me make a few things clear. I'm going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible in order to keep the out-and-out magic of a live Hamilton performance as a surprise. I have dear friends due to see the show in two weeks and I want their jaws to hang just as much as mine did, for their laughter and their tears to come without warning, even though they're well-versed with the soundtrack. The soundtrack is wonderful. The soundtrack is amazing.

The soundtrack, compared to the live show, is flat and emotionless. Think about how listening to it has affected you and understand that the live performance will absolutely blow that away.

More on that later. Now, where was I? Right, me screwing up.

First off, I shouldn't even have been in town this weekend. A friend of mine made the incredibly generous offer of housing at GenCon. GenCon, for those who don't know, is the biggest gaming convention of the year. I have a pack of friends who gather there annually and man, it sounds wonderful. Getting housing, though, is spoken of through gritted teeth amid curses and growls, so to have it gift-wrapped for me - how could I refuse?

I refused.

Why? Well, my daughter was going to spend almost two weeks at sleep-away camp, with her return date the Friday of this weekend. Which meant I wouldn't be there to pick her up, or see her when she got back, or hear all her stories while they were fresh.

I love my friends. I love spending time with them and drinking with them and losing to them in various sorts of games. But for me, this wasn't even a choice. With regrets I passed on the invitation and, after being alerted to the fact that I'd failed to sign her up for the bus ride home, gave my daughter a few extra hours of camp time while she waited for me to drive up and get her. My first screw-up of the weekend.

Wouldn't be the last.

But don't worry, it all turns out well.

My wife has been battling both ear and sinus infections. Nyquil helps but knocks her out. This became important as she struggled to stay awake until midnight Friday night to make sure she could sign The Boy up for a limited-position program at school - only to discover the website was running on Pacific time. After sleeping for three hours she got up and got him enrolled - then found herself unable to get back to sleep. When I got up at 6am to write she staggered back to bed and, aided by Nyquil, crashed hard. Our plans were to head to the Meadowlands Flea Market at about 9 or so and she figured 3 hours would be plenty of rest.

I'm getting to the Hamilton part. Hang in there.

I entered the lottery like I do every day (sometimes twice) at this site. If you're in the NYC area I strongly recommend you give it a try - it's free, takes about 15 seconds, and hey, I've heard you can win front row seats to Hamilton. Usually I get my 'you're a loser, try again' emails at work on weekdays promptly at 4:01pm, but the weekends are a bit more nebulous as the showtimes vary and include a matinee on Saturdays. Anyway, while we waited for Lola to wake up time ticked by - 9am, 10am, 11am. Finally at 11:30am I rallied the kids and took them into town for smoothies and a visit to the awesome indie kids' bookstore in town (where several of Gareth Hinds' books are on prominent display). I did NOT take my phone with me because it was in the bedroom with the slumbering Lola and I didn't want to chance waking her up. I was also reading instead of screwing around on either my computer or my tablet, which meant I forgot to check at 11am to see my Hamilton  rejection email.

We got back from town around 12:15. Lola was up but our window of opportunity for the flea market had passed, so I headed upstairs to change into crappy clothes suitable for cutting the lawn. I saw my phone and grabbed it to see if I had any emails. I did. One looked like this:

Hamilton 400x116
Dear Christopher-
Congratulations! You have been selected as a winner of the Official Digital Lottery.
Here are the details:
August 6, 2016 2:00 pm
2 ticket(s) at $10 per ticket
Balance due: $20.00
Here’s what happens next:
You have 60 minutes to pay for your tickets online. Major credit cards are accepted. If you do not pay for your tickets within 60 minutes, they will be released.
Click below to pay for your tickets.

You might notice the part under 'Here's what happens next:". It says I had 60 minutes to pay or the tickets would be released. The email was sent at 11am.
It was 12:20 when I saw it.
Uhm. There was some yelling that might be described as anguished. My wife ran upstairs, alarmed, to listen to me curse myself mightily. My daughter, who has lived, breathed, and dreamed about Hamilton for the past six months understood how badly I had screwed up but, bless her, did her best to hide how devastated she was. I couldn't believe my idiocy. I spluttered uselessly for another minute or two and was about to go cut the goddamn lawn when I said to myself, 'You know, Kit, maybe you ought to check. Just to be sure.'
So I did. I checked on the site and confirmed that indeed I'd been selected (there's a cruel joke site that allows you to prank your friends with a fake winner email. Don't be that guy. Don't). Breathless, I clicked through and was taken to the site where one pays $10 (plus a 2 buck service fee) for tickets that have a current face value of $847. Each. Autofill did all the work and I bit my lip as I hit send.
Spinning arrow. Two, maybe three seconds, but each of those were an eternity. Then, a screen thanking me and telling me to enjoy the show.
Holy shit.
It was now 12:30pm and I needed to be at 46th Street in an hour (I was unsure if we had to be there right at 30 minutes before the show or just in that time window. I wasn't going to take any chances as I'd already screwed up quite enough, thank you). I walked downstairs and said, "Hey Becky, I thought of something we could do this afternoon. Wanna go see Hamilton?"
Oy, the joyous screeching.
If it had been a weeknight show we never would have made it. As it was there was enough traffic to make it pretty damn close and I earned my share of honks, dirty looks, and middle fingers as I wove through cars like a total jerkweed. Those people didn't understand. This was Hamilton. I stuck the car in a $45 garage on 49th and 10th and we hoofed it down to the theater. Now understand I still wasn't sure we were in at this point as I'd signed in after the 60 minute window and I made sure Becky was aware that Daddy might be setting her up for one crushing afternoon. She's a tough one, that kid. Inscrutable. I knew she was excited but if you didn't know her you'd figure by her countenance she was heading to a doctor's appointment or something.
There were huge lines stretching in either direction in front of the theater, penning in the ticket holders. I'm not quite sure why you'd get there early and stand outside if you already had ticket in hand but to each their own. We went to the entrance and were shepherded into the lottery winner line, where we earned an awful lot of sullen/jealous looks. The twenty of us there all wore slightly bemused expressions of the 'is this really happening?' variety. And I STILL didn't know if we were good or not. After an extremely long fifteen minutes we started to get ushered in. I handed my license to the box office dude and endured another endless three seconds before he handed me tickets with a smile.
We were good.
No doubt because I'd responded so late we got the 'worst' of the lottery seats - all the way stage left. Front row, with the stage no more than a foot from our faces. Look:

The orchestra was in front of/below us and we could feel the bass and drums vibrate our seats a bit all show, especially during 'Right Hand Man.' There were several scenes that were played out under a foot from our faces. I could have reached out and grabbed Christopher Jackson's leg during "Meet Me Inside."

I did not.

So, enough backstory, right? How was it, this hoity-toity show that everyone keeps blagging about like it's reinvented theater?

Well, as far as I can tell, it has pretty much reinvented theater. Before kids I saw my share of Broadway shows: The Producers; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Phantom of the Opera (yeah, I know); Cats (not my idea either); Spamalot; How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; Avenue Q; even the Flying Karamazov Brothers (who were amazing). Not a lot, but not a few, either.

Nothing like this. Nothing like Hamilton.

What to say without ruining it? How can I ruin it, you say, since most of us listen to the soundtrack, watched the Tonys, saw the stuff on Youtube?

It's just different: more visceral, more emotional, more funny. We may not have had many of the originals in our show - Laurens/Philip; Washington; Peggy/Maria Reynolds; and a good number of the incredible ensemble - but it didn't matter. They were all fucking fantastic. They guy taking over for Diggs might not have been able to hold the French accent when he speed-rapped as Lafayette but he killed as Jefferson and damn near stole the show. And back to Washington - holy crap, how did Christopher Jackson not get a Tony? He owned every scene he was in and while his inflections differed from the soundtrack each added a different take, a different intensity. He brought the place down with 'One Last Time.' Brought. It. Down.  The cheering afterward  - not just applause, but outright cheering - lasted for at least 30 seconds. He emoted like a champ. Anthony Ramos is perfectly cast as Laurens/Philip. Just perfect. And King George? I don't - I can't even. Completely changed the way I perceive 'You'll be Back' and no, I'm not going to tell you why. And the Cabinet Battle . . . genius. It plays better than you could imagine. So clever. So much fun.

Is that being spoilery? Maybe. If you want me to get spoilery drop me a private email. Otherwise I'm going to back off here.

As much as I personally wanted to see the show, it didn't hold a candle to how much I wanted for my daughter to get her chance. We came so close to getting tickets in the after-Tonys sale, with the system crashing on Lola while she had 4 tickets in her basket (While I am sad that she and The Boy haven't seen it yet I'm pleased at the money saved). I honestly never thought I'd win this, never be able to get this kid in to see this thing she's so crazy about. She watched most of the show with a huge smile on her face, occasionally whispering along as she has it completely memorized. Her eyes darted everywhere, taking in everything - the staging, the costumes, the unreal choreography (I want to see this again just so I can focus on the ensemble) - and soaking it all in. She's already interested in the theater and had requested taking classes with the local theater this fall but this - this was watching someone falling in love.

This is my daughter. This is my daughter on Hamilton. Any questions?

I could go on at length about how much it meant to me to be able to share this experience with her, but Joe Posnanski has already done a much better job of that than I would (go read that next. He's amazing). I know the tickets are expensive. I know the tickets are hard to find regardless of cost. But try. Do the lottery if it's feasible. See one of the touring productions. Catch a show in Chicago or Boston when they open. It's that good. It's that amazing. And then you too can bore your friends with your Story of Tonight.