As I stood at my seat in Row R of New York City’s Richard Rodgers Theatre, enthusiastically joining in the standing ovation alongside my wife and the rest of the crowd at the end of “Hamilton: An American Musical,” a thought flashed across my mind:
This New York musical theater trip was absolutely worth it, even for someone who isn’t a theater buff.
Last September, Chelsea and I began the process of organizing a theater lover’s vacation of lifetime — a week in New York City centered around attending what ended up being three Broadway hit musicals. It was executed in late June and early July, when we made the 3,000-mile trek to New York to find out what Broadway was all about. And when it was over we marveled at how the experience not only met our wildest expectations, it exceeded them.
So how does a sports writer who’s never particularly been a fan of musical theater wind up on Broadway? Let me explain.
Chelsea has always been wild for the theater. She grew up in a theater family, she sings solos at her church and when she finds the opportunities, she’ll attend shows locally. But I never understood the depth of her fanaticism until she discovered “Hamilton” two years ago. “Hamilton” is a hip-hop musical about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
My reaction to “Hamilton” was, “Why would someone make a musical about Alexander Hamilton?” Chelsea’s reaction? “I have to hear this!” So Chelsea bought the album, and from the moment she absorbed the first lines of the first song, she was hooked. “Hamilton” became the soundtrack to our road trips to the coast and our lazy afternoons at home, and eventually Chelsea had a revelation: We must see “Hamilton” on Broadway.
So Chelsea, who is non-stop when she’s on a mission, got to work. “Hamilton” was sold out pretty much until the end of time, but she learned that the show’s website would occasionally release blocks of tickets. Therefore, she got onto its email distribution list with the idea that if tickets ever became available when she was free from her job — Chelsea is a high school counselor and therefore is beholden to the school schedule — she would get them.
Chelsea’s shot came late last September, when tickets opened up for the following summer. Needing to act fast once the email arrived, she texted me to say she was buying them. Then moments later another text arrived saying she wasn’t — because the tickets were $350 apiece. It just so happened that Chelsea’s birthday was coming up, and a certain husband was having a hard time coming up with a good gift idea. “Get the tickets, Chels.”
Thus began our preparations for the trip. Chelsea was the driving force throughout, while I was mostly along for the ride, more excited for her than to see the show itself.
Somewhere along the way Chelsea decided that if we were going to see one show in New York, we might as well see two. “Come From Away,” a musical about mid-air flights during the 9/11 tragedy being re-routed to Newfoundland, was previewed in Seattle before landing on Broadway in February. Chelsea knew people who saw the show while it was in Seattle and raved about it, but she missed out herself. So it was added to the itinerary.
Finally the time arrived to head to New York, and our second night there was “Hamilton.” When we arrived at the theater, I was surprised to find butterflies in my stomach. It had been such a process to reach that point that my nerves kicked in, even though seeing “Hamilton” on Broadway wasn’t my dream.
The buzz inside the theater was electric. Everyone excitedly interacted with the people around them, asking for aid in taking photos and chatting about their experiences getting tickets. Clearly we weren’t the only ones for whom this was a life event, not just a show.
But what about the show itself?
It was incredible. Just moments into the show I glanced to my right and Chelsea was already beginning to tear up. She remained emotional throughout the show, and even I couldn’t help but get choked up at the most poignant moments — Chelsea was triumphant when she spotted the hint of a tear in my eye.
She admitted afterward that she was trepidatious before the show, fearing she’d hyped “Hamilton” up so much in her mind that the actual show would be a letdown. But it ended up being everything we could have hoped and more.
Everyone else apparently felt the same. We remained in the lobby for a half hour after the show ended so Chelsea could purchase a T-shirt, and though we were among the last to leave, a crowd remained milling about the doors getting selfies with the marquee in the background.
The next night we went to “Come From Away” and it was more of the same. More laughs, more tears and more standing ovations.
Those two nights were so energizing that Chelsea decided we needed to try and see a third show. She put her name into a digital lottery for five other shows and, much to our surprise, we won one: “On Your Feet,” which is about Gloria Estefan, the lead singer of the ‘90s Latin-pop band Miami Sound Machine. While “On Your Feet” may not have been the blow-you-away production “Hamilton” and “Come From Away” were, it was still a lot of fun, and we walked away from the theater with big smiles on our faces.
Our Broadway trip was not simple to put together. It required a lot of time, effort and resources to make it happen, and it will be a while before we can afford to have a vacation quite like this again.
But was it worth it? Every penny. And this is coming from a sports guy, not a theater person.
So if a Broadway trip is even remotely on your bucket list, and you have the resources to do it, I encourage you to take the plunge. Chances are you won’t regret it.
Nick Patterson: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @nickhpatterson.
Tips on doing a New York Broadway vacation
Considering a musical theater trip to Broadway? Here’s five tips based on what my wife, Chelsea, and I experienced during our trip this summer:
1. Get on email lists. Procuring tickets to popular shows can be neigh impossible without paying exorbitant mark-up fees to third-party vendors. However, theaters with shows that are sold-out for months in advance will occasionally release blocks of tickets that can be purchased through the theater’s website. Acting on an email alert can save you hundreds of dollars.
2. Don’t stress about seat locations. Nosebleed seats can sometimes ruin a theater experience because the distance from the stage eliminates the ability to pick up nuance. However, most of New York’s Broadway theaters are older and smaller, meaning even the furthest away seats are much closer to the stage than you might experience at Seattle theaters.
3. Listen to the music in advance. While you may think you’ll spoil the show by hearing it in ahead of time, chances are it will enhance your appreciation. This is particularly true of a musical like “Hamilton,” which in its hip-hop style often has rapid-fire lyrics that can be difficult to follow on first listen. Plus, it gives you the chance to sing along in your head.
4. Be aware of New York’s rental laws. Technically, short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO are illegal in New York City, as well as unpopular with the city’s residents. Rentals can often be cheaper options to hotels, and if you’re looking for one in New York you can still find one. Just be prepared to tread quietly or receive some pushback.
5. Get dinner reservations as early as possible. A Broadway show seems the right occasion for a full night out on the town, and there’s plenty of good restaurants in the neighborhood that cater to theater goers. But the popular ones get booked up fast for the hours preceding when shows begin. So be prepared to make reservations the moment the restaurant allows it.
— Nick Patterson, Herald writer