The people who stage Broadway shows in Minneapolis had never witnessed a scene as frenzied as this.
At the State Theatre box office, phones were ringing off the hook at 10 a.m. Wednesday with 200 excited fans lined up outside, singing tunes from “Hamilton” and scrolling desperately on their phones as they tried to get seats for the Broadway smash’s Minneapolis debut Aug. 29-Oct. 7. The ticketing website was overwhelmed by an unprecedented surge of traffic.
In the end, only a relatively small number won the first round of the battle to get the hottest ticket of the year. More will become available at a later, unspecified date.
Among the lucky was Liesl Wiborg, a Minneapolis talent recruiter who trekked to the State at 5:30 a.m. and was first in line. She stood for 4½ hours before the ticket window opened — then another hour and a half when the system almost immediately crashed.
“I’m a huge theater fan, and I can’t wait to see ‘Hamilton,’ ” she said. “We’re giving up our [Mexican Caribbean] vacation to Isla Mujeres for this.”
By 11:30 a.m., Wiborg had her tickets — actually, an eight-show subscription package for the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s 2018-19 Broadway season, which launches with “Hamilton.”
But by 1 p.m., the trust halted sales after selling 5,000 ticket packages.
The trust can sell a maximum of about 15,000 season tickets because most of the shows on its schedule have a much shorter run than “Hamilton,” which will play the Orpheum Theatre for six weeks. In the meantime, the trust is awaiting word from 10,000 current subscribers who have until March 12 to renew their subscriptions. (A limited number of non-renewals are expected; people who want season tickets can join a waiting list at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.)
The good news: There will be a total of 120,000 tickets to “Hamilton,” meaning 105,000 will become available to nonsubscribers at some point.
The trust would not say when individual tickets might go on sale.
Officials blamed scalper-driven ticket-buying software for the system crash.
“We were all ready at 9:59, and we had unprecedented volume, which we believe is due to not just human buyers but bots,” said Jim Sheeley, president of the Historic Theatre Group, which manages Minneapolis’ Broadway playhouses.
The system, administered by Ticketmaster, is used for Broadway seasons across the country, he said. “Any system will go down under such a sustained attack.”
While theater officials are accustomed to fans lining up for tickets to single shows, this was the first time they had seen hundreds of people jam the box office to buy a season package.
Wednesday’s outage tested the patience of the festive crowd that snaked from the theater lobby to the Rock Bottom Brewery, waiting for its shot to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about the nation’s founders.
Fans played the soundtrack on their phones and made new friends while they waited. Some had given up work, yoga and even — in the case of Mary Jo Jepson of Monticello — Bible study.
“Oh, you’re going straight to hell,” Tom Rooney, a new “Hamilton” friend, joked to Jepson.
Jaimee Bohning, an official with the Minneapolis School District, was trying to get tickets three ways — through both her laptop and her phone as she stood in line.
“I had two [ticket packages] on my computer in my car — or thought I did — then it crashed,” she said. “I can’t stay here long because I’ve got a meeting.”
Earlier, Steve King, a stained-glass artist, left without tickets after more than two hours in line. He had hoped to surprise his wife with a season package for Valentine’s Day. “I thought these would’ve been better than a box of candy,” he said.
Retiree Greg Hanka left empty-handed. He was the second person in line, and he had hoped to have the tickets as a joint birthday celebration for him and his wife of 43 years. But sometime after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Hanka received notification from the box office that he did indeed have a pair of season tickets. “We’re very happy about it,” he said. “They said they would contact me and they did. We can’t wait.”