The team behind “Hamilton,” the incomparably successful stage musical, detailed on Monday plans for “Hamilton: The Exhibition,” an interactive exhibit telling the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding of America slated to open Nov. 17 at Northerly Island.
A massive, climate-controlled tent will house 27,000 square feet of exhibit space. Tickets will be timed, with 75 people allowed to enter every 10 minutes.
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“We want our guests to be able to take a journey through Alexander Hamilton’s life, through his eyes,” “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller said Monday. “They’ll start at St. Croix at the trading post desk where Alexander worked as a 15-year-old, honing the skills that would ultimately lead to this creating the United States of America’s government. As he works through the various stages of his life, the exhibit takes you there. It leads you to his moving to New York City, going through the Revolutionary War, establishing our [country’s] entire financial system. … It ends on the hilltops in Weehawken, New Jersey, where he meets his sad end with Aaron Burr. And it’s all [a journey] through a 360-degree, totally immersive, interactive exhibit. [Outside of what ‘Hamilton’ the musical portrays] we wanted to do more to expand the history of Hamilton and the history of the founding of our country.”
To ensure the historical accuracy and context for the exhibit, Seller and key members of the stage musical’s creative team — set designer/creative director David Korins and director Thomas Kail — collaborated with academic experts including Yale University professor/historian Joanne Freeman and Harvard University history and law professor Annette Gordon-Reed.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator/star of the stage musical, will share the journey with patrons via the audio tour of the exhibit. He also will be featured in short films at various junctures in the exhibition’s galleries. “I feel strangely that he and Alexander Hamilton are in a way kindred spirits who have found each other,” Korins said. “His perspective on each gallery has been invaluable.”
The exhibition is the culmination of two years’ worth of conversations and planning, Seller noted, starting just about the time “Hamilton” opened in Chicago. It was a well-kept secret, as work has been ongoing for the past 18 months.
“The album came out in fall of 2015 … then this book came out about the making of the show. Then the documentary about Lin-Manuel’s pursuit of the story came out. Every one of those things expanded the circle emanating from the show, if you will. We started to realized there was an opportunity to further serve the person who uses this musical as a way into [understanding and studying] history,” Kail said.
“Lin had a two-and-a-half-hour musical [through which to tell the story] so he had to conflate things, cut the story down to that [time frame]. This exhibit is the opportunity to fill in so many more pieces of the story. The details of the time period and the people Hamilton bumped into every day of his life now will become apparent,” Korins said.
The exhibit, slated tentatively for a six-month run, hopes to serve as a living history of the Hamilton milieu, so it’s not about featuring props, costumes or facsimiles of the sets from the musical. “We want to inform Chicago that this is an experience about our country, not just a musical,” Korins said.
That’s not to say the musical’s impact will not be felt. There will be music throughout each gallery of the exhibit, with new arrangements of familiar songs from the musical “recontextualized for the exhibit” and serving as a “guide through the years of his life,” Kail said.
And while Chicago in November may not seem like a logical decision for an exhibit, albeit one enclosed in a climate-controlled tent the size of a football field, Seller said: “We put things into the world when they are ready, and this will be ready in November. We didn’t want to wait until spring. We know this will be a fantastic experience to enjoy over the holidays. … It’s the city where ‘Hamilton’ came first from Broadway. We came here because we thought Chicago would express extraordinary enthusiasm and support for the show, and that turned out to be true. The combination of your civic pride, civic engagement and population base made this the obvious choice. And honestly we didn’t consider any other city.
“And I was completely inspired by the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893,” Seller added. “Chicago loves a great exhibition.”
Ticket prices will most likely land at $35 for adults, $25 for children, Seller said, making it much more affordable than tickets to the musical, which will still be playing across town. And as part of bringing the exhibit to Chicago, all Title I schools that visit on specially scheduled dates will be able to see it free, he said.
In terms of economic impact for the city, Seller said it’s a fantastic opportunity to use art and event to bring people downtown. “It will also employ many Chicagoans to operate the exhibit on a daily basis, and then there’s auxiliary impact such as parking and dining. There also will be a store and food tent at the exhibit site.”
“Hamilton” is currently playing at the CIBC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe. For tickets, visit broadwayinchicago.com/