The musical 'Hamilton' begins its 3-week run at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts in East Lansing on May 14. The producer behind the mega-hit is a Michigan native, who spoke with WKAR about bringing his life's mission of inclusivity to the big stage.
Nearly 5 years ago, a cultural tidal wave hit Broadway. A musical with a mix of hip-hop and R&B, combined with people of color cast as America’s founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. 'Hamilton' the musical broke barriers and sales records.
It was an unlikely story produced by Michigan native Jeffrey Seller.
"Everything I’ve done was against the odds," said Seller. "The idea that I would get from Oak Park, Michigan to Broadway and become a Broadway producer was not supposed to happen. I think that I’ve been able through the course of my life to block out what’s not supposed to happen. And just focus on doing the work to make it happen."
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Seller was one of the forces behind another unlikely story nearly 25 years ago. A musical about a group of friends in New York – the characters included gays, H-I-V positive people or drug addicts. Many critics told Seller early on that 'Rent' was not main stream enough for Broadway… but the musical went on to win Tony and Pulitzer awards and garner audiences around the world.
"I think that inclusion has been integral into my life’s purpose," said Seller. "And maybe that’s the reaction to the feeling of exclusion. I feel like everything I do is try to make a world where everyone can participate. Everyone can be in the circle."
Seller also wanted access to the shows he produces to be inclusive as well. During the run in East Lansing, people who download the Hamilton app or apply online are entered into a lottery to buy a ticket for just 10 bucks a piece. 40 tickets for every show will be sold this way.
"For me, what that translates to is make it affordable to everybody. It translates to engage the kids," said Seller. "Use 'Hamilton' to educate them about American history. Use 'Hamilton' to educate them about poetry... about hip hop, about music, about theatre, about what it took to build this country, what the sins of building this country were; and how we can do better as a country going forward."
Seller promised the production of 'Hamilton' at The Wharton Center will not be any different than what’s playing in New York City or Chicago.
"The show that audiences are going to see in East Lansing, Michigan at the Wharton center for the Performing Arts, the theater I love and I’ve been to… is exactly the same show that London audiences see on London, or what Broadway audiences see on Broadway," said Seller.
"Every single word, dance move, costume, set piece is exactly the same. And I could confidently switch any of those companies around and say everyone’s going to see the same great show. They’re going to get different tones; they’re going to get different colors, different qualities from the amazing performers that populate each one of our shows."
"But they’re all going to have the 'Hamilton' experience. That is equal."