'Hamilton' producer delights Detroit Economic Club

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
Oak Park native Jeffrey Seller, left, producer of the hit musical "Hamilton," goofs around while being interviewed by WDIV-TV's Devin Scillian during a Detroit Economic Club luncheon at Detroit's Masonic Temple.

Correction: Steve Grigorian is the president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Club. 

Detroit — Jeffrey Seller just beams. If you worried fame and fortune would spoil the Oak Park kid who's now a prince of Broadway, you can rest easy.

On Wednesday at Detroit's Masonic Temple, the 54-year-old producer of "Hamilton" was tickled pink to be back home, speaking to 300 people at the Detroit Economic Club. 

After remarks by University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, Seller got down to business on stage opposite WDIV-TV's Devin Scillian, both seated with microphones in hand. 

The first question Scillian lobbed was one Seller had answered earlier in a private Q&A for the 80 high-school students present for the luncheon: What in the world does a producer do anyway?

The producer, Seller explained, picks the play.

"And I choose from the heart," he added. "I don’t know what’s going to sell tickets, and I only choose to please me — and hope others will come along for the ride."

Then, Seller noted, you have to water the little green shoots. 

"My job is to be the nurturer," he said, "to the playwright, the lyricist, the composer and the set designer. I have to give them the support they need, exhibit the patience they need, and know when is the right time to say to them: Can you do better? Or — you must do better."

Once he has a musical in hand, "Then I have to sell it" — to the investors, the theater, the theater landlord, and ultimately, the ticket-buying public. 

Oak Park native Jeffrey Seller, left, producer of the hit musical "Hamilton," directs his remarks to the audience at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon Wednesday.

The producer of "Rent," "Avenue Q" and "In the Heights," who got his start in elementary school with Royal Oak's Stagecrafters, turned to his audience with a grin.

"That's why my last name is Seller."

But he cautioned it doesn't end there. The producer has to support the play throughout the life of its run. 

"People always ask me, ‘How many times have you seen 'Hamilton?''" Seller shook his head. "I don’t’ know — how many times have I seen it this month?"

Most recently, he saw the national touring production at the Fisher Theatre on Tuesday night, and insisted he never tires of watching the hip-hop musical work its magic.

"When those roars rose from that audience last night," Seller said, "I went, ‘OK. We’re still good.'"

At the conclusion of the interview, Schlissel rose to announce he was going to engage in a lightning round of questions, to which Seller could only give the briefest answers:

What's on your bucket list? "Teaching at the University of Michigan." (Laughs all around.)

Who would you most like to have lunch with? "Barack Obama." 

What's your favorite song? "Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now.' "

Favorite movie? "Goodfellas."

And finally, how would you describe Detroit in one word? "Hot!"

Not surprisingly, the audience went wild.  

On the steps outside the Masonic Temple, Cesar Chavez High School student Oscar Cruz confessed he was totally dazzled. 

"I want to do theater as well," said the graduating senior, who added that he'll be seeing "Hamilton" in the coming weeks. "And Seller's story was just so," Cruz shook his head, "inspiring." 

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy