Eleven 53-foot trailers, a cargo plane of costumes and props, and 76 performers and crew have arrived in Anchorage for the biggest production to hit Alaska since 2009.
“Hamilton,” the musical based on a biography of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, will begin its 3 1/2-week run in Anchorage on Thursday. The innovative hip-hop, rap and R&B-infused musical retelling of history by Lin-Manuel Miranda had a searing effect on popular culture after its premiere in 2015. It’s a big show for the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts — known widely as the PAC — which hasn’t seen a production of that scale since before the pandemic.
“It’s grand. It’s big Broadway,” said Codie Costello, president and chief operating officer at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
A ‘logistical ballet’
Pulling off such a big show in a town as relatively remote as Anchorage is a lift. Costello said the scale of the production is comparable to PAC heavy-hitters including “The Lion King,” which played six weeks in 2009, “Les Miserables” in 2014 and “The Phantom of the Opera,” which had a memorable run in the ‘90s.
Getting everything to Alaska required a fleet of 53-foot trailers drawn from three touring productions at different ends of the country, carrying sets, equipment, costumes, props and more. Then there were the 76 people, including the stage performers, musicians, crew members and management staff, winging their way up as well.
The “logistical ballet,” as Costello called it, began when the first four trailers departed Albuquerque, New Mexico, in July and headed to Tukwila, Washington. Those trailers were joined by seven more, which started out in Puerto Rico, were shipped to Jacksonville, Florida, and then traveled all the way across the country to Washington state. All of those rolled onto a ship and headed to Anchorage in mid-July.
Just this last weekend, three more trailers loaded with costumes, props and actors’ trunks drove from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Kansas City, where their contents were loaded into a cargo plane and flown to Anchorage.
That last part — the stage in which production equipment was packed, weighed, put on a plane and transported by air — is actually an innovation, Costello said. She said companies are used to traveling by trailer, which is one of the obstacles that has made touring to Alaska difficult in the past.
All of the cargo was being unloaded in downtown Anchorage over the course of four days as the company prepares for 30 performances over the next few weeks.
A new partnership
This is the beginning of a new project for the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts nonprofit, which manages, maintains and operates the PAC, Costello said.
Costello said during the downturn of the pandemic, Alaska Center for the Performing Arts received a planning grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust to help work on their organizational strategy.
That led the group to strike up a partnership with a major institution in the world of theater: The Nederlander Organization, which operates nine theaters on Broadway and three in the West End in London, and presents a Broadway series in more than 35 venues across the United States.
The Center for the Performing Arts in partnership with The Nederlander Organization will bring four musicals to Anchorage each year as part of a new series called Broadway Alaska. Three more shows in addition to “Hamilton” announced for 2023-24 are “Come From Away,” about planes diverted to Newfoundland during the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.; “Six The Musical,” about the six wives of Henry VIII; and Disney’s “Aladdin.”
Costello said that The Nederlander Organization’s industry clout helped the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts secure a high-profile musical like “Hamilton.”
She said another factor is that some major touring presenters will only work directly with venues, “so we knew if we wanted to secure this opportunity for our community, we as the performing arts center would have to step back into the presenting arena.”
Starting Broadway Alaska off with “Hamilton” has created buzz and also allowed the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts and The Nederlander Organization to build a method of air transport for the next tours coming to Anchorage — and possibly for other cities that are off the beaten path for major touring Broadway productions.
Costello said her group’s focus on Broadway is strategic. It’s a big investment to get a show like “Hamilton” to Alaska, but a high-profile show can be a major draw, especially when it comes to new audiences. Once those audiences get in the door, she hopes they’ll be hooked. That can benefit all the shows at the PAC, she said.
“You pile on top of that the incredible stuff that happens in here, with the 20 to 30 shows that Concert Association brings, with what the symphony does with their season, the opera, the junior theater, all the dance companies, the youth orchestra,” Costello said.
When people see the array of options at the PAC, the hope is they’ll be more likely to check out other productions.
As for “Hamilton” and the Broadway shows following it, Costello says Anchorage can look forward to an experience akin to going to a theater on the Great White Way itself.
“It’ll be like watching in New York — but in a bigger theater,” Costello said.