Exclusive: Ron Legler, President of Hippodrome Theater Talks Hamilton, 2017 Broadway Season and more!

Ron Legler, President of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center at the Hippodrome Theatre

Everyone knows that I love a good musical and one of my favorite theaters is Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theater. I have front row season tickets (paid my own money). Last week the theater announced that yes, Hamiton IS coming to Baltimore in 2018. Ron Legler, President of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center at the Hippodrome Theatre, to talk about Hamilton and their amazing upcoming 2017 season which includes the American premiere of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Love Never Dies, the sequel to one of the biggest broadway show of all time The Phantom of the Opera.

In addition to those two huge gets, Ron (or should I say Mr. Legler?) has worked overtime to bring Baltimore theatre goers some of the biggest recent Broadway productions including The Waitress, School of Rock (which I saw opening weekend and love), The Color Purple, An American In Paris, On Your Feet and The Lion King.  Season ticket holders can renew NOW and general tickets go on sale in February.

Let me start with my obnoxious, overly broad question. Please tell us who you are and why we’re speaking with you today?

Ron Lagler President of Baltimore’s France-Merrick Hippodrome Theater and we’re here to talk about the 2017/2018 Broadway series.

Can you talk a bit what you do on a day to day basis?

As the President, I oversea all aspects of the theater including the operations and what productions to bring in. I’m also a Tony voter. I use that leverage to help us bring in quality productions.  Right now I’m planning the 2018/2019 season for the theater. In our announcement we did a little tease that Hamilton is coming to Baltimore in the 2018/2019 season.

We were able to secure 7 fantastic Broadway shows for the 2017 season. It’s going to be one of the biggest Tony seasons we’ve ever had and most of these productions are still on Broadway.

Andrew Lloyd Webber Liebe Stirbt Nie
Musical Operettenhaus Hamburg
Stage Entertainment Germany

What is the process you go through to select these shows? Do you select strictly from Broadway Productions or all Touring shows?

It’s called the Broadway Series, so we bring National tour Broadway Productions for that, but we also feature other productions for our non-Broadway series.

Let’s Talk about the 2017 Series. You have School of Rock, Love Never Dies, The Color Purple, The Waitress, On Your Feet, The Lion King and An American In Paris. In 2018 you have Hamilton coming. Out of this line up what is your favorite production and you have to commit.

I think each show offers something different, which is one of the things I love about musicals. Certainly Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Weber is the sequel to one of the biggest musicals of all time The Phantom of The Opera. This is the 2nd story and the Baltimore audience is going to be the first in North America to see this new production.

The Color Purple, my gosh, everyone says it’s the definitive production. You will ugly cry throughout it. It is so moving and beautiful, powerful and current. School of Rock where everyone continues to learn and kids use music as a voice. If you like dance and ballet An American In Paris features some of the most beautiful dancing ever seen on Broadway. On Your Feet – The Gloria Estevan story is fun and it’s coming right around summer time and a fun way to kick off summer the music will make you want to move, get up and dance.  The Waitress by Sara Bareillesis is the biggest show on Broadway after Hamilton and is only the 2nd show, currently earning over $1 million a week.

One of the things I love about this line up is that other than School of Rock and The Lion King, I haven’t seen any of these productions. It all feels like new, fresh material, was that done on purpose?

We take the titles that are out there. Broadway has been able to get these productions up and running a lot quicker than they used to. We normally wouldn’t see a show like The Waitress until 3 years after if closed on Broadway. Same with productions like an American In Paris or School of Rock. It’s amazing they are churning these shows out quicker. I have an amazing relationship with Broadway Producers and booking agencies. That relationship is translating into Baltimore getting a lot of these great productions. I’m really proud of this season, only to be outdone by the Hamilton season next year.

There was a huge outcry over how poorly The Kennedy Center handled their Hamilton announcement and the fact that they were telling people that they had to purchase 2 seasons of tickets to guarantee a seat. What lessons did you learn from that and what are you going to do differently?

I don’t think anything is ever done poorly. Hamilton is a juggernaut and one of the biggest Broadway shows in history. You have something really big. Everyone wants to see it. It’s like news story, you want to put the breaking news up front. All The Kennedy Center was saying was if you want to be able to see Hamilton and all the other great shows you should get a season ticket. I think it was a beautiful announcement and it’s going to be a great production. Hamilton is going to come and go, The Kennedy Center is going to be there. I don’t ever blame a non-profit for trying to push their art.

The Hippodrome Engagement is going to be much smaller and we’re going to satisfy the Baltimore audience. What we’re saying is that if you are a subscriber you are guaranteed a seat at all of the shows in the series. Outside of the season ticket holders, we don’t know if you’ll be able to get a seat. We only guarantee for season holders, that’s all we’re saying. Hamilton is good for everyone and will shine light on other productions as well.

Here’s where I give myself props. Even though I’m press and I get free tickets, I’m also a subscriber (I can’t turn down front row seats).

People are paying a fortune to see Hamilton in New York…

I paid $600.

See, that would cover the cost of our entire subscription package.

It all can’t be sunshine and puppies, so I have 2 complaints about the Hippodrome. Number 1 – Why do shows have such a short run? It seems like a week isn’t enough time for these productions. From a purely selfish point of view, it’s hard to get a review done in that short amount of time.

It’s all about economics. We couldn’t afford to keep a production for a long time and the Baltimore market isn’t big enough to support a long run. The Kennedy Center has a 12-week engagement for Hamilton, we could never do that. Well, maybe for that show. There are only 3 or 4 markets in the Broadway Across America network that goes longer than 1 week and those are big cities. Now what’s your other complaint?

My second complaint is about the Hipp Café. It drives me nuts that I cannot get a seat at the café and they are rude about it as well.

That little tiny area is only supposed to seat 35 tables, but they cram 80 in there and they sell out weeks before a show even gets there. Even as the President of the building, I can’t even get a seat there or anywhere on show night. Even the Panera Bread around the corner is standing room only. But it’s also a good thing because downtown Baltimore is thriving, every restaurant in the area is booked weeks in advance on show nights. Isn’t a great feeling to say that we need more restaurants downtown.

Believe me I share that frustration. That struggle is real.

Other than Hamilton, what is your dream show to get?

Honestly, I don’t think we could have done better than this season. We are the first market in the country to get Love Never Dies. It’s a huge win for us. To have The Waitress, The Color Purple, An American In Paris, School of Rock and On Your Feet in their first year out is amazing. I’m really happy with our line up. In 2018 in addition to Hamilton we have some other big productions coming up.