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'Hamilton' is coming to the Straz Center in Tampa

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton at the Public Theater in New York in January 2015. The show is "beyond blockbuster" says Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the Straz center in Tampa.
Lin-Manuel Miranda performs as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton at the Public Theater in New York in January 2015. The show is "beyond blockbuster" says Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the Straz center in Tampa.
Published Mar. 6, 2017

It has long been the hardest ticket to get on Broadway, let alone in Tampa.

But the wait locally for Hamilton finally has an end in sight. A touring version of Broadway's hottest musical in decades is coming to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa during the 2018-2019 season, the center and the show's producers have confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times. Exact dates will be released early in 2018.

The hip-hop musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the Founding Fathers, the life of Alexander Hamilton and his feud with Aaron Burr has set box office records, snagged Tony awards and set off an unprecedented demand for more. Hamilton seems destined to outpace previous blockbusters at the Straz, including Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, The Producers and The Book of Mormon, said Judy Lisi, the Straz's president and CEO.

"This transcends all of them," Lisi said. "I've never seen a show like this. It's beyond blockbuster."

The show is now running long-term in New York and Chicago. The national tour opens March 10 in San Francisco and works its way east, down a list of stops more than three-dozen cities long. Market size and other variables determine the length of bookings, which range from a few weeks to four months. According to Lisi, Tampa's run will last "multiple weeks."

"We all wanted it as soon as we saw what a success it would be," Lisi said. "But there's a lot to put together. The producers were dealing with this enormous show, and it took awhile to figure it out."

But as one of Florida's largest performing arts venues, the outcome was never in doubt, she said. "It was a matter of when," Lisi said.

Other than a current shortage of parking spaces and no clear solution yet, the venue should be ready to accommodate the show. The Straz has recently installed new lighting and sound systems in Morsani Hall, where Hamilton will be performed, and the smaller Ferguson Hall. Workers will replace the Morsani's 30-year-old seats this summer.

Season subscribers and donors have first dibs on tickets, with prime seats going to those who have subscribed the longest, Lisi said.

The venue is not the only tour stop in Florida. In early February, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando announced Hamilton would come to town, but no sooner than October 2018. The Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale has also announced a tour stop in 2018-2019. The Straz reached an agreement around the same time, but has kept quiet about it until now.

The biggest reason was fear of stepping on its own rollout of the 2017-2018 Broadway lineup, which includes musicals like Waitress and The Color Purple, and mixing up announcements about two different seasons. Other venues have done so for that very reason, selling out their season subscriptions as a result, Lisi said.

"We decided we didn't want to (announce Hamilton)," Lisi said. "I thought there would be confusion, number one," she said. "Number two, these other great shows would be overshadowed by the Hamilton effect."

There is one group of buyers that the center wants to keep at arm's length — the automated ticket-buying software, or "bots," that scarf up hundreds of seats within seconds and then resell them at inflated prices. Congress in December passed the Better Online Tickets Sales Act, or BOTS Act, making electronic mass ticket scalping illegal, a move championed in part by Miranda.

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The Straz isn't taking any chances, and has bought software detection tools designed to sniff out bots, Lisi said.

"We've seen many sad, sad stories."

Those preparations aside, this show won't be exactly the same one that established the brand. Like all touring shows, the cast reflects varying levels of experience. The current touring cast, which could change by the time the show hits Tampa, contains several members with Broadway credits, including Michael Luwoye, who plays Alexander Hamilton, and Emmy Raver-Lampman, an original Hamilton cast member who plays Angelica Schuyler in the touring show. Rory O'Malley, who played King George III on the Broadway, was nominated for a Tony award for The Book of Mormon.

Lisi believes Hamilton is a game-changing musical worth the wait and effort to see.

"It's one of those watershed musicals that has changed Broadway, the Broadway sound and the Broadway look," she said. "The way it's cast — to see this mix of Americans, every ethnic group you can imagine, playing the traditional roles of Washington or Aaron Burr or Hamilton — it's almost symbolic of who we are as Americans."

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.