BJ: How the "Hamilton Effect" will play out in Jacksonville

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By   – Reporter, Jacksonville Business Journal


When the FSCJ Artist Series announced its 2019-2020 lineup on April 24, they knew it was going to be big. The headliner for the season is "Hamilton: An American Musical," after all. The rest of the season boasts big productions, too: Between "Hamilton," "Wicked," "Anastasia," "Rent" and "Bandstand," subscribers have many options.

"We knew 'Hamilton was going to be a hot ticket, but we didn't realize how hot the entire subscription sales would be," said FSCJ Artist Series executive director Milt Russos. "Hamilton has certainly impacted that."

After an initial flurry of sign-ups, new subscriptions were suspended while current subscribers can decide if they want to keep their seats or not. After May 21, tickets will open back up to new subscribers, where 1,500 names are on a waiting list.

The touring rules of "Hamilton" limit the amount of subscription seats that can be sold in the theater, to make sure a number of tickets are always available to the general public. There will also be a lottery "Ham4Ham" for each show giving away about 40 $10 tickets, as is the Hamilton tradition.

But the best way to ensure a ticket to the show is to buy a subscription, and Russos has seen the numbers prove the demand is there. Subscriptions for the 2018-2019 season were up about 30 percent, he said.

Subscriptions for the 2019-2020 season is expected to double.

"In this business, it's always good to have those sales in place, for all kinds of reasons," Russos said. "For one thing, we don't have to spend as much on single-ticket advertising and it helps our bottom line. The challenge is to keep these people in future years when we don't have "Hamilton.'"

There is some discussion in the theater community on what this might mean. Large shows like "Wicked" don't come around often – the last time it visited Jacksonville was 2012. And every theater in the country is vying for the coveted "Hamilton" tour. But subscription sales going up for seasons that contain "Hamilton" also means that more people are seeing smaller shows, like "Something Rotten" or "Bandstand."

Every theater has some amount of loyal subscribers who renew year to year. Russos said he is looking at booking two shows next season that are "very, very popular," so he anticipates people will continue to be interested in attending.

"We haven't seen anything like this in a long, long time, or ever," Russos said. "It's comparable to 'Phantom of the Opera' when it first went out, maybe. The Book of Mormon holds the house record for us in terms of dollars. 'Hamilton' will surpass that -- ticket prices are higher. 'Wicked' will probably surpass that too."

Russos said he quantifies success with how many people they reach, and of course, paying their overhead cost. Any profit goes back into the foundation for FSCJ.

"Each season stands on its own," Russos said. "And the quality of shows we're now able to bring has risen dramatically over the years."