Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, you’re probably well aware of the global phenomenon that is the Broadway musical, "Hamilton."
Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show brought hip-hop to the Broadway musical and features a cast made up almost entirely of non-white performers.
The show also has a wildly popular soundtrack that is at the top of the Billboard chart for Cast Album, and is currently number two on the Rap Album chart, right below Drake.
Only those lucky enough to score a ticket have been able to see the show. But now a group of fans have formed Hamiltunes LA, a people united under a common passion for singing along to the show's music.
Frame producer Michelle Lanz has the story.
The Clubhouse theater in Los Feliz may be thousands of miles from the glitz of Broadway, but the crowd that gathers for the monthly "Hamilton" singalong is no less enthusiastic. They call it Hamiltunes.
The Clubhouse isn’t even a theater in the traditional sense. It’s a converted retail shop next to a Radio Shack in a rundown mini-mall. On the other hand, the audiences on Broadway definitely aren’t allowed to belt out lyrics from their seats.
Like the location itself, Hamiltunes LA is a mash up of sorts. Co-founder Liz Kerin describes it like this:
A quasi-karaoke party, also a singalong in the vein of "Rocky Horror" where there’s a lot of fun, drunken audience participation. Everybody has their specific lines they like to shout out, and when “My Shot” begins, we walk out with trays of shot glasses.
On this night, 80 or so rabid "Hamilton" fans are crammed into the tiny space. One participant marches across the stage waving a giant American flag. Then a woman decked out in Colonial-era garb grabs the mic. More than one person is sporting an ironic "Hamilton" t-shirt.
When it comes to the show's die-hard fans, Paul Krueger is in a class of his own. Sometimes he plays several characters at once in Hamiltunes.
I wore different colored ties depending on which character I was playing. I played [Thomas] Jefferson, I played [Aaron] Burr and I played Alexander Hamilton...I just know a lot of the show by heart, so they know they can plug me in anywhere if somebody doesn’t show up on their cue, so I’m kind of their Swiss army player.
The idea was originally conceived as a house party for Kerin and her musical theater-loving friends to scratch the "Hamilton" itch. But as word spread, the organizers quickly realized it couldn’t be contained.
“So many people wanted to come we had to rent a little theater space," Kerin says. "Now, a couple months later, we’re saying we have to rent a little bigger theater space.”
The organizers have had three of these events since starting in late 2015. Thanks to the Hamiltunes LA Facebook page, fans from all over the country have reached out to these pioneers for advice on how to do their own events in their cities.
"We’ve got people in D.C., New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Orange County who’ve all contacted us," says Hamiltunes organizer Jack Kelly. "It keeps growing and it’s really really cool."
Attending a Hamiltunes singalong almost feels like watching the real thing, except the production design is sparse and it’s a whole lot more affordable.
“We are very unsure about the legality of it," Kelly says. "This is not a show we're not making money from, this is just a fan run event with a suggested $5 donation to cover our costs. We sold out this event completely in 48 hours. So it goes fast."
What makes a Hamiltunes event work so well is how the musical is written itself. Most other musicals are essentially plays punctuated by musical numbers, but Hamilton is almost entirely made up of rapping and music.
“One thing that helps is you can feel like you’ve seen it by listening to the soundtrack because almost everything is sung," says co-founder Mia Resella. "And if you listen to the whole thing, you feel like you saw the play. The music is really great, and because of the hip-hop inspiration it’s accessible to more people.”
To participate in Hamiltunes, you also don’t have to worry about hitting that perfect high note. Kelly knows this first hand:
I’ve had a different struggle than a lot of people, I’ve recently started transitioning and taking testosterone, so my voice has been changing. So I’m going through second puberty and relearning how to sing, because I was still trying to find out how to use my voice."
It’s clear that the music is attracting people who might otherwise not be into Broadway shows. But is there something beyond the music that has people so in love with "Hamilton"?
Mia Resella has a theory:
I think for me and a lot of people in my family, we really like that it’s an immigrant story. I think that taps into something where you feel like, yes, this is the story that I associate with The American Dream, someone working really, really hard and having the hardest time and building their way to the top.
And, of course, Paul Krueger has his theory:
I’m a person of color, and I think for Broadway, which is an incredible storytelling medium — but nonetheless one that tends to be very white — for it to be so much more inclusive than its contemporaries and everything that came before it [is great]. I think that brings a lot of people into the fold that would not have previously been interested or invested in something like Broadway theater.
So what does Tommy Kail, the director of Hamilton think of all this?
The thing that’s so meaningful to all of us, to Lin and to ["Hamilton" musical director] Alex Lacamoire and the folks that worked on this show, the fact that it’s out in the world and it’s making people want to be heard or express themselves, that’s all you’re trying to do. Every night we’re not trying to make 1,340 people want to work in the theater, we’re trying to make people say, Theater is for me, or I’m inspired to go and find my voice.
The "Hamilton" touring production is getting ready to hit the road. So in August, 2017, Angelenos will get to see the real show. But Hamiltunes regular Paul Krueger isn’t waiting that long.
I’m from Chicago and I’m hoping my parents will be able to get me tickets to the Chicago show. I’m going to be in New York this summer and I’m hoping to get tickets there too. I want to follow "Hamilton" the way an aimless baby boomer followed the Grateful Dead.