What do you get when you bring a critically-acclaimed Broadway show for a limited three-week run to Puerto Rico?
Celebrities. Sold out shows. Nearly endless press coverage. And hopefully, a significant boost to the tourism and arts economies.
As “Hamilton,” featuring the return of star Lin-Manuel Miranda ends its run at the Centro de Bellas Artes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the island is hoping for the spotlight effect to linger.
“People are going to come to Puerto Rico because of ‘Hamilton,’ and hopefully spend a lot of money here,” the show’s creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda told the New York Times at the start of the show’s run.“But they’re also going to see blue tarps, and they’re also going to see how much work there is to be done.”
The island, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, has been working to get back on track since. While locals stress that the island is almost fully recovered, parts of the island still remain damaged. One way to turn things around: Announce that the island, and its tourist economy, is open for business.
“Hamilton”-themed packages offered by local tourism companies and hotels like Marriott International quickly sold out.
But the Broadway show’s efforts are two-pronged. The show run, and the ensuing attention, is meant to put a spotlight on the island, while also benefiting the island’s local artist communities.
At the start of the year, the show’s producers announced that they would be donating $15 million to the Flamboyan Fund, the Miranda family’s arts non-profit. (That number is based on donating the full proceeds, barring operating costs, of the show’s three-week run to the fund.) Marriott International will donate a minimum of $300,000 to Flamboyan from ticket packages and hotel bookings; that number, based on bookings through February, may go higher.
“The ‘Hamilton’ effect is very interesting,” actor Donald Webber, Jr. says. Webber plays the conflicted and charismatic Aaron Burr onstage. “We learned as we arrived that $15 million was being donated. That’s incredible.”
“For three weeks, to bring something like this to this island, to bring money to the economy and to bring folks from all over the world…It feels like our duty,” Webber says. “This show is about the Founding Fathers trying to make sure our country ran successfully. How can we do that if we don’t help each other?”
“The arts are the heart and soul of a community,” Flamboyan’s CEO Kristin Ehrgood says. “You get to know a community through their artist expressions.”
Ehrgood acknowledges that when tourists come to places like Puerto Rico, it can be hard to easily find the country’s vibrant artists. This is part of Flamboyan’s mission: To support the arts, but also to showcase local artists.
“We need to do a needs assessment,” Ehrgood says. “We need to understand what is the crux of the problem for the tourist that wants to come here. Is that [information] is not on a website? What websites are they looking at? We need diagnose the real problem first and then we craft solutions to meet them.”
For the moment, the local artist community is basking the after glow of moments like Jimmy Fallon staging part of his late night show on the “Hamilton.” “You cannot put a number on that,” Flamboyan executive director Carlos Rodriguez Silvestre says. “Even those of us living here, we see a change in the attitude, in the spirit of the people just by having [the Hamilton cast] here.”
“We can only imagine how huge this opportunity has been,” RodriguezSilvestre says. “I’m sure we’re about to see in the next few months.”
I am a former Wall Street Journal reporter and video producer, and the founder of Ambianceuse.com, a website dedicated to luxury travel, food and spirits. Follow me on Instagram at @HelloAmbianceuse.