'I don't even like musicals ... but I do like this one': Fans queue for Hamilton's Canadian debut

Diehard Hamilton fans weren't about to throw away their shot at getting tickets on Monday, choosing to line up outside during a chilly Toronto morning for the chance to see the smash hit musical's Canadian debut.

Canadian premiere set for Toronto in February; will also play Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, centre, performs with castmates at the 2016 Tony Awards in New York City. The smash musical debuts in Canada in 2020. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Diehard Hamilton fans weren't about to throw away their shot at getting tickets on Monday, choosing to line up outside a downtown theatre during a chilly Toronto morning for the chance to see the smash hit musical's Canadian debut.

"I really wanted to get tickets. I thought, 'This is my chance, so I'd better get here early,'" said Rosalie Shackleton, the first outside the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Shackleton was among nearly 150 early risers ensconced in a growing queue ahead of the 9 a.m. ET start of public ticket sales for Hamilton. A steady stream of people joined the line as the morning stretched on.

"It's an amazing show," said Shackleton, a retiree aiming to score seats for herself and a few friends "desperate" to catch the production.

"It's had a great history of being in different cities and now, finally, in Toronto."

Rosalie Shackleton, who arrived before 6 a.m. ET on Monday to queue outside the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, shows off her wristband for the Hamilton ticket-buying lottery. (Sharon Wu/CBC)

Inspired by a biography by historian Ron Chernow, Hamilton follows the life of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean who rose to become George Washington's chief aide during the American Revolutionary War and the first U.S. secretary of the treasury.

Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who originally appeared in the title role, has been widely praised for his fresh and contemporary reimagining of the story. The musical features a score that blends hip hop, R&B and pop, while its cast spotlights actors from a variety of cultural backgrounds playing historical figures.

Hamilton appeals because "it's not a typical musical," said Tess King, a young fan who joined the Toronto ticket queue around 6 a.m.

Tess King joined the Hamilton line around 6 a.m. on Monday. (CBC)

"I don't even like musicals; I don't even like singing. But I do like this one — a rap musical about the founding of the U.S. — probably because it's political and historical, and there's a lot of rap in there," she said.

In addition to that combination of history and contemporary music, Toronto theatre lover Tani Manuel said she appreciates Miranda's choice to showcase actors of colour.

It took Tani Manuel about two hours travelling from Scarborough in suburban Toronto to make it into the Hamilton line outside the Ed Mirvish Theatre on Monday morning. (CBC)

"He makes sure to have [visible] minorities to play key roles, because most of history shows Caucasian people," Manuel noted. 

"I like how he's very inclusive."

Since its Broadway debut in 2015, Hamilton has won a tidal wave of accolades, such as the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama and 11 Tony Awards, including best musical, the same year. It earned a Grammy Award for its cast album, spawned a cover album featuring stars like Alicia Keys and Nas, and garnered an army of devoted fans, including Barack and Michelle Obama.

Joseph Morales, left, and Marcus Choi appear in the Hamilton touring production. The musical has been praised for showcasing actors of colour. (Joan Marcus/Mirvish)

Huge appetite

Beyond Broadway, Hamilton's Canadian debut in February will come after having already have played in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and San Juan, Puerto Rico — the birthplace of Miranda's parents.

However, the fact that it has toured to other cities hasn't stemmed Canadians' appetite for the show, which will play at the 2,200-seat Ed Mirvish Theatre. 

Mirvish Productions sold a record number of subscriptions for the 2019-20 season (subscribers get first dibs at tickets) much earlier than expected after first announcing Hamilton as part of this year's lineup.

It's the kind of anticipation that brings to mind the Canadian buzz for Les Misérables in 1989, but according to John Karastamatis, Mirvish's director of communications, there's never been anything like this in the more than 50 years the Mirvish family has been in the theatre business.

"[The Mirvish family] has done every major blockbuster in theater: Hair, A Chorus Line, Cats, Les Miz, Miss Saigon, The Phantom of The Opera, The Lion King, Mamma Mia, Come From Away. But there's never been this kind of demand for a show. It's 10 times that demand of anything else," Karastamatis said on Monday.

Shoba Narayan, Ta'Rea-Campbell and Nyla Sostre, from left, appear in a scene from Hamilton. Anticipation for the musical's Canadian debut has been building for several years since Mirvish first announced it would play in 2020. (Joan Marcus/Mirvish Productions)

However, there have been a few hiccups.

This past weekend, for instance, there was a flurry of complaints shared on social media about a Hamilton online presale opportunity — open to Mirvish newsletter subscribers — that was plagued with technical issues. Fan complaints ran the gamut: from buyers claiming to have been kicked out of queues (numbering in the thousands) at the last minute to grumbling about long wait times to the sales process reportedly timing out due to website slowness.

But according to Karastamatis, there was no system slowdown or site problems from Mirvish's end.

"We didn't see a problem at all. We saw those comments and we could not respond to them because in fact we don't know what the problem was," he said.

A more pressing concern for the company to tackle, however, is the same one that affected previous Hamilton productions elsewhere: resellers offering tickets for exorbitant amounts, which has already been an issue in Toronto.

Tickets being sold by Mirvish range from $50 to $250 Cdn each, with premium seats costing $499. However, some third-party sellers are offering them for as much as $1,650.00 US each (about $2,150 Cdn).

Actors appear in the touring production of Hamilton, which has been staged in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London and San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Joan Marcus/Mirvish Productions)

Earlier this fall, Mirvish warned that online brokers had already claimed to have tickets (and were offering them for outrageous prices) even though it was still weeks before general ticket sales and the company hadn't yet begun assigning seats to subscribers. The company reiterated that warning on Monday.

So, in an attempt to combat reselling, Mirvish Productions will not even print out the actual tickets until early December. Over the next month, the company will review all the ticket sales to date for repetition in factors like common addresses (postal and internet), credit card numbers and so forth. Suspect transactions will be cancelled.

"We will cancel the tickets once we determine someone has been buying to resell," Karastamatis said.

"Our contract with each ticket buyer is they cannot resell the tickets for any reason … If you have a problem with your tickets and you can't use them, you can give us a call and we'll try to find a solution for you. We don't want you to resell them. That creates a false marketplace and we don't want that."

The reseller issue dates from the original Broadway production. In 2016, Miranda penned a New York Times op-ed decrying third-party brokers employing ticket bots to automatically scoop up tickets to Hamilton (as well as other shows, sporting events and concerts) as soon as they were released — faster than regular consumers ever access them — and subsequently offering them for sky-high prices.

By the end of that year, the U.S. Senate passed and then U.S. president Barack Obama signed into law a bill outlawing the resale of tickets obtained by bot technology.

John Leschinski and Jennifer Lanktree on Monday scored the first in-person public tickets in Toronto for Hamilton. (Sharon Wu/CBC)

For Hamilton fans Jennifer Lanktree and John Leschinski, it was worth it to just wake up early Monday and stand in line.

"If you're looking at resale tickets, they're a lot higher," noted Lanktree, who along with Leschinski snagged the first pair of in-person tickets sold in Toronto on Monday morning. They paid $200 each.

"Just to go and see Hamilton, it's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. You just don't always get that chance, so it's kind of worth anything you can afford."

Hamilton runs at the Ed Mirvish Theatre from Feb. 11 to May 17, 2020. It plays in Ottawa in May and moves onto Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver in the 2020-21 season.


Jessica Wong

Senior writer

Jessica Wong is a senior writer for CBC News, based in Toronto.

With files from Jelena Adzic, Sharon Wu, Deana Sumanac-Johnson, Nigel Hunt and The Canadian Press


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