“Omigod! Winning!” shouted Twin Cities attorney Alex Reyes.
Reyes had just scored four tickets to the long-awaited Minneapolis debut of “Hamilton” after sleeping overnight on Hennepin Avenue. She and her friend, Missy Chinn, passed the hours by singing songs from the Broadway blockbuster — and fortifying themselves with nibbles and beverages.
“I saw it in Arizona once with my mom and didn’t know much about it going in,” Reyes said. “Now I wouldn’t miss it. I’m a total, ironclad fan of what is the greatest piece of art I’ve ever experienced.”
Reyes and Chinn were among 200 people who bought tickets at the State Theatre box office Thursday morning for the Aug. 29-Oct. 7 run of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton.
Thousands more battled online for the roughly 100,000 tickets that went on sale Thursday morning. A new Ticketmaster system aimed at blocking scalpers worked for some, but not others. Adding to their frustration, hundreds of scalper tickets popped up almost immediately on sites such as StubHub, where main-floor seats were going for nearly $2,000.
“I tried for an hour and asked for all price ranges, any tickets — whatever was available. I got nothing,” said business analyst Shannon Ralph of Minneapolis, who missed a chance to see the show in New York two years ago when breast cancer forced a change in plans. “It’s very irritating.”
Ralph did exactly what hopeful fans were directed to do: She preregistered last week through Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system, and was one of the lucky ones who received an access code to purchase seats.
All the people who lined up at the box office Thursday morning were able to buy tickets, however. Some said they had failed to score tickets online. “I couldn’t get through, and so here we are,” said Shannon McGinnis of New Brighton.
The atmosphere was jolly, as a line snaked outside the State Theatre lobby and around the corner. Bank of America, which sponsors the Broadway season, handed out water and jelly beans. Next-door neighbor Rock Bottom Brewery handed out brownies.
“We have to make this festive and fun,” said Jim Sheeley, president of the Historic Theatre Group, which manages the Hennepin playhouses.
Nicole Mitchell, a meteorologist, was gleeful as she took a selfie with her ticket envelope. “I tried to see it in New York but couldn’t get tickets,” she said, heeding the advice of theater officials who advised buyers not to post photos on social media showing ticket bar codes, which could be copied by counterfeiters.
Many waiting in line had ready excuses for why they were not at work.
“I’m getting my teeth cleaned,” one said. Another was in a meeting.
“Playing hooky to score some seats,” said a more honest man from St. Paul who preferred to remain unnamed.
Jack Reuler, founder of Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, waited for four hours. “When theater becomes a phenomenon like ‘Hamilton,’ we all need to see it,” he said. “It transfers theater from being a nicety to a necessity.”
There also appeared to be scalpers in line. One who camped out overnight could not name any songs in “Hamilton” and didn’t recognize familiar references in the show.
In February, when the first handful of seats were offered to Hennepin Theatre Trust season subscribers, demand crashed the ticketing system. Officials at HTT, which presents Broadway touring shows in Minneapolis, wouldn’t say how many tickets were sold Thursday, or how many online customers were turned away.
By early afternoon, no more tickets remained at the box office, and only a “extremely limited number of tickets” were left for online buyers, a spokesman said.
Sheeley defended the Ticketmaster system, which was launched last year to block scalpers using computer bots. “Every person that signed up for Verified Fan should understand, and it’s clearly stated in everything we publish, that it does not guarantee you’ll get tickets,” he said. “Obviously, tons of people signed up and there was limited inventory.”
There’s still hope for those who got shut out and don’t want to deal with scalpers. There will be a daily lottery for 40 prime seats to each show, priced at $10 apiece. A few special matinees will be staged exclusively for school audiences.
And there will be select “Hamilton” tickets released by the producers closer to show dates. How many, Sheeley did not know.
“My advice is to check the [Hennepin Theatre Trust] website,” he said.