Ice House

How a Houstonian and Her Kid Beat Almost Everyone to Hamilton

Carmen Abrego and her son weren't about to miss their shot.

By Dianna Wray March 28, 2018 Published in the April 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Ruben J. Carbajal, Michael Luwoye, Jordan Donica, and Mathenee Treco in a past performance

It was only as Carmen Abrego and her 12-year-old son walked into Richard Rogers Theatre on November 2, 2015, that she fully realized what she had done.

Days before, Abrego, an assistant manager at the Houston Public Library, had been online looking for tickets to Hamilton—the smash-hit, hip-hop musical chronicling how “young, scrappy, and hungry” Alexander Hamilton rose up to found the United States along with the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—when she’d stumbled across two $500 tickets for a “special performance,” a Democratic National Committee fundraiser featuring an address by President Barack Obama.

She’d blinked for a moment, puzzled at what she was seeing. The buzzy Off-Broadway production had sold out for all 119 performances, while the one on Broadway had sold 200,000 tickets before even opening in July 2015. And now that it was being hailed by critics and proving to be the phenomenon that was predicted, tickets were getting scooped up by internet bots almost as soon as they were released, before selling on the secondary market for an average $1,000 per seat. Still, here were two tickets for the show for half that price.

Within minutes, she’d bought them and informed her son they were heading to New York City. “To see that performance and to see the president speak, to me that was worth the money,” she says now. “I’ve literally never been more spontaneous.”

A few days later, having finagled a couple of seats on a flight to NYC through a friend who worked at United, Abrego and her son were standing in the lobby of the theater, ticket stubs in hand, when her son froze. “Mom, that’s Chris Rock,” the boy said, as the famed comedian strolled by. The room was packed with celebrities. Over the course of the night Abrego nearly smacked into Bill Nye, caught sight of Ethan Hawke, and tried not to audibly gasp as Kerry Washington breezed past.

And then Leslie Odom Jr. took the stage as Aaron Burr, singing “Alexander Hamilton.” The creator of the show, Lin-Manuel Miranda, had opted for an ethnically diverse cast, which he described as “the story of America then, told by America now,” and the title role was being played by Miranda himself, the son of Puerto Rican immigrants. As the tremendous cast played out the story, it was almost too much to take in, Abrego says now. Phillipa Soo’s performance as Eliza Hamilton moved her to tears, and Daveed Diggs transfixed her with his iteration of Thomas Jefferson in Act II. 

Obama was unable to attend the actual performance—he was giving remarks at another fundraiser—but made a speech afterward. “This show reminds us of the vital, crazy, kinetic energy that is at the heart of America,” Obama told the audience. “That people who have a vision and a set of ideals can transform the world. That has always been true.”

“Is that the actual president?” Abrego’s son whispered to Abrego as Obama spoke. She nodded.

“It was worth it just for that,” she says now.

Her son was so dazzled by the show, they went on a Hamilton tour of NYC next time they visited, and her daughter fell in love with it, too, via the soundtrack—she dressed up as Hillary Clinton and sang “My Shot” for the school talent show. Now 10, she maintains that since her brother saw Hamilton, she should get to go see it too.

But Abrego says they probably won’t see the national tour when it swings through Houston. After all, tickets tend to get snapped up and resold within seconds of being released for public purchase. There’s still a chance of snagging amazing $10 orchestra seats via a daily lottery, but otherwise, the starting price of a resale ticket is about $300, roughly the same as for a West End production in London.

So instead of seeing the Houston show, Abrego, her husband, and their two kids plan to wait and make the trek across the pond this summer. “That will be perfect,” she says, “seeing the revolution acted out in the country we revolted from.”

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Hamilton Finally Comes to Houston

July 1804

Former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, the financial genius and West Indies immigrant who’s become one of the founding fathers of the United States, a key supporter of the U.S. Constitution, and the creator of the country’s banking system, is shot and mortally wounded in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. For decades to come, his death will be the main thing U.S. schoolchildren learn about him. Houston, admittedly, doesn’t exist yet and has nothing to do with what’s happened in Weehawken, New Jersey.


Historian Ron Chernow publishes a biography on Alexander Hamilton pointing out that the duel in Jersey is only one of all the many things Hamilton did that’s worth remembering. Houston has existed for quite a while at this point, but there’s still no direct connection.


Lin-Manuel Miranda becomes Broadway’s next big thing when In the Heights, his musical about three days in a vibrant New York City neighborhood, Washington Heights, opens and blows everyone away.

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Image: Shutterstock


Miranda, having picked up Chernow’s book to read on vacation, has been working on a new musical—at this point, he says it will be a concept album—about Hamilton, who the playwright contends “embodied hip-hop.” He premieres the song “Alexander Hamilton” at the White House Poetry Jam, First Lady Michelle Obama snaps along, and the video goes viral.


Hamilton hits Broadway, accompanied by such intense buzz from its time at the Public Theater that it soon becomes clear that: a) this show is going to be a massive hit, and b) it will soon be nearly impossible to get tickets that don’t cost an actual fortune. Michelle Obama sees it repeatedly, and declares it “the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.”


Hamilton takes home all of the Tony Awards. Or just about all of them. Miranda and company pick up 11 Tonys, all well-deserved. It also wins the Pulitzer Prize for drama, because of course it does. Meanwhile, those who can’t afford a Broadway ticket and/or live nowhere near NYC hunker down and wait for the show to go on tour. And wait. And wait.


Hamilton opens in Chicago, and the first national tour kicks off. Houston is on its list of cities, but we must wait another year, so there’s plenty of time to learn all the words to “Guns and Ships” and practice snapping like Angelica Schuyler in “The Schuyler Sisters.” (“You want a revolution? I want a revelation,” the oldest, wittiest Schuyler sister sings in the show.) Indeed we do. 


Hamilton finally, finally, finally arrives in Houston—this month, on April 24. The time has come to experience the show that surely will be remembered as one of the greatest moments in American musical theater. It’s here until May 20.

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