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Shea's 'Hamilton' ticket sales go smoothly as online buyers run into hiccups

Nineteen years ago, Louie Burgess of Buffalo got tickets for Game 3 of the 1999 Stanley Cup final by waiting in line at a Tops supermarket in Lancaster.

On Friday morning, Burgess wound up being first in line inside Shea's Buffalo Theatre to buy tickets to see "Hamilton" when it comes to town next month.

"I guess I'm just lucky," he said outside the theater shortly after 8 a.m.

Shea's gave the public a chance to buy tickets for the smash-hit musical, which will be on stage here from Nov. 20 to Dec. 9, by showing up in person at the theater. Tickets, which also went on sale online at 8 a.m., were sold through a lottery system. Everyone who showed up to Shea's between 5:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. was given a numbered wristband, though not everyone who got a wristband was guaranteed the opportunity to purchase tickets. Ticket purchases were limited to four tickets and about 400 wristbands were distributed.

At 7:33 a.m., the first 50 numbers were announced from the stage, and wanna-be ticket buyers started lining up.

Ticket prices ranged from $83 to $178 along with with a limited number of $428 premium seats. About 50,000 tickets would be available for the 24 performances at Shea's over the nearly three-week run. Tickets for the first week of shows were reserved for theatergoers with season passes.

Keith McCormack of Amherst said he showed up at around 6:30 a.m. and was able to buy four tickets. He said part of the reason he wanted to try to purchase them in person was to avoid the fees incurred in online purchases. The only problem with the ticket limit was he has a family of five, including his wife and three children.

His family has been listening to the soundtrack to the musical for several years. They also have a bootleg recording of a performance on Broadway by the original cast, which he says the family's probably watched more than 100 times.

"Somebody's going to be left out. Probably me," McCormack said outside the theater after making the purchase. "I want them to see it. They're superfans."

Diane LePage of Youngstown was one of those who showed up early at Shea's and also went through the process to become a "verified fan" through Ticketmaster, in order to have the opportunity to buy tickets online. If she was able to land tickets, she was planning on bringing her children, she said.

"I thought, 'double the chances,' " she said of the two-tiered strategy.

The Ticketmaster Verified Fan program was set up to cut down on scalpers and “bots” that often scoop up large numbers of tickets before the general public can buy them. Users registered for the program, were verified and then emailed codes Friday morning to allow online access to purchase tickets. The process brought an immediate response on social media as some were able to easily purchase tickets, but many reported having technical issues.

Complaints included codes not being accepted; access to the site being denied; long waits of 10 to 30 minutes while the website searched for tickets,causing people to then be locked out of the process; and not being able to use mobile devices for the process. There also was confusion over navigating the site, where the first choice turned out to be $425 premium seat tickets and lesser-priced seats were difficult to find.

Those who came to Shea's didn't have to worry about computer issues. Aaron Griffin of Buffalo showed up at 6:15 a.m. and made into the first block of ticket buyers. He also was going to try to buy online, hoping to get tickets for himself and his partner.

"The concept is fascinating," Griffin said of "Hamilton," a Broadway phenomenon that tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton with a performance infused with hip-hop music.

'Hamilton' hearkens back to the real American Dream

Darryl Rung of Kenmore came downtown to try to buy tickets for his daughter and son-in-law, who live in Rochester. He showed up at 6:45 a.m. When the first block of wristband numbers was announced, he missed out by seven numbers.

Visibly disappointed, he watched from outside the ropes as the first group of 50 people line up in the lobby. Rung said he was going to stick around to see if he eventually got selected. He called the process "surprisingly organized."

Burgess, who was the first person in line, scored four tickets to a show Dec. 8. He said he'll be going to the show with his wife and two yet-to-be-determined friends. He described the buzz around Shea's Friday morning as "like the Super Bowl."

Sisters Tina Harris and Debra Hall of Buffalo tried getting tickets for the show on Broadway during a May visit to New York City. Harris' wristband was inscribed with one of the lucky numbers.

"It's the history and they way they present the history," Hall said of their interest in seeing the show.

Robin Moslow of Buffalo, a self-described theater-lover, ended up third in line. Based on the turnout, she said, she wasn't worried about her chances of getting tickets.

Moslow nabbed four for the Dec. 4 show. "It was well worth coming down," she said.

Gusto editor Toni Roberto contributed to this report.

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