You might have seen “Hamilton," the filmed version of the Broadway hit streaming on Disney+. Or not. Since Disney won’t release audience numbers, we have no idea if 50 or 50,000 people saw it.
Normally, when a studio has a big hit, it brags endlessly about it. This time: silence. Most folks take that to be a sign of bad news.
Not that any of the streaming services are in a hurry to disclose their audience numbers. But if the studios decide that online PPV is a better long-term bet than theaters, the pressure to come clean will be enormous.
Now that the world of entertainment has moved aggressively toward streaming, with stages, theaters and concert halls still closed (or should be), we must ponder the comparison between getting off your butt and going out versus watching the same event on your flatscreen/notebook or phone.
Here is quick comparison from my days in a Connecticut bedroom community.
Driving into Manhattan is never easy and always wildly unpredictable, but on a good day it took about an hour. Parking was about $50. A modestly reasonable dinner for two was $250. The tickets I got for “Hamilton” were $600 each (for not-great seats). If you rushed out of the theater and got to the garage early, you could be home by about 1 a.m. All in all? About $1,500.
If you have ever been to Broadway, you know that the theaters are all 150 years old and have seating designed for someone 5’ 2”. When you are 6’ 4,” it’s not unlike being in the middle seat — in economy — on a flight to Denver.
There was a time when patrons dressed nicely and whispered quietly to their seatmates. No more. You are just as likely to be sitting next to a tourist in shorts who talks throughout as on that endless Denver flight. If you are REALLY lucky, there is a teenaged girl behind you who knows the score by heart and signs along with the cast.
You dare not force the 10 people between you and the aisle to get up during the show because the lines to pee are too long on the way in and at intermission. That will teach you not to drink a bottle of wine at dinner (if the price didn’t).
All of this is remotely tolerable because it gives you bragging rights, especially if you saw the show with the original cast. You are screwed if the response is “Yeah, we saw it just after it opened.” Or worse, “Yeah, we’ve seen it three times, isn’t it great!?”
Now, IF you see a great show, with a great cast AND paid top dollar to be front and center, there is something very special about live theater.
On the other hand. Right now, it only costs about $70 a year to subscribe to Disney+, and “Hamilton” will be available for about a year before going into theaters (probably).
I’d hope that sitting on your sofa is more comfortable than Broadway seats and you can probably get the best takeout dinner in your entire town for under $100. Since you aren’t ordering off the wine list, your Costco-purchased vino should be very reasonable. And you can pause to pee at any moment you like.
Best of all, you are not in a crowd of thoughtless morons who think it’s their right to comment loudly throughout.
Now, here comes the big X factor. You might HATE “Hamilton” (it is definitely not for everybody). If that happened on Broadway (or the local roadshow) you have kissed about six hours of time — and $1,500 — goodbye.
The arts should never come down to dollars and cents, but they do when the economy is heading into a great dive with no bottom in sight.