'Grey's Anatomy' Showrunner Hits the 'Hamilton' Jackpot in Raffle: "Pure Joy"

Krista Vernoff married producing partner Alexandre Schmitt - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Franck Alcaraz

Grey's Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff is having the best year ever — and it's only January.

In just three weeks, she married producing partner Alexandre Schmitt, signed a new deal for their Trip the Light Prods. with ABC Studios and, on Jan. 18, the icing on the cake: Vernoff won tickets to see the final performance, on Jan. 27, of the blockbuster musical Hamilton during its limited run in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, back onstage in the title role during the run, conceived of the production as a way to raise money for the island's ongoing Hurrican Maria relief efforts. Vernoff was one of 50 lucky fans who, through the Prizeo fundraising platform, scored a VIP package for two guests that includes roundtrip airfare, hotel accommodations, closing-night tickets and passes to the closing-night party.

“It's pure joy,” Vernoff tells The Hollywood Reporter of seeing her name included among the contest winners, all of whom entered by donating to The Flamboyan Arts Fund and Hispanic Federation. “We have been supporting the Hispanic Federation through the Prizeo contests for years. We give money — my 11-year-old daughter and I — and I explain to her that we give from our hearts because people need our help, and if we were to ever win the contest, that would be icing on the cake. And we just got the icing! It's crazy.”

Catching the show in San Juan is a coup, but it wasn't Vernoff’s first time. “I saw it early because my friend Neil Haskell was dancing in the show. I knew nothing about it. I sat near the front of the theater, and I started crying about five lines in. That happens to me when I am overwhelmed by talent and beauty. Spontaneous tears. I was awestruck. My mouth was literally hanging open, awestruck, through the entire show. And then I learned that I had seen an understudy in the lead! So I went back to see Lin-Manuel do it. And then I went back again about a year later. So I've seen three actors play Hamilton. Every time it blows my mind.”

Also pretty jaw-dropping were the guests who joined Vernoff and the other contest winners for the show's final bow. Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the crowd, as was Gayle King. "Also watching Hamilton with Bill and Hillary Clinton a few rows away was NEXT LEVEL," Vernoff tweeted after the experience. "The show resonated in whole new ways. Crazy."

Also great: Miranda surprised Prizeo winners after the show by joining in for a group photo opportunity, to say hello and share gratitude for the experience. he campaign marked the ninth time that Miranda — a devoted philanthropist — has collaborated with Prizeo on fundraising efforts.

“I don't get starstruck by actors. But authors whose words have changed my life or the way I see the world, I fall apart,” Vernoff explains. “I met Tom Robbins once. Cried. Same with Anne LaMott. Lin-Manuel lives in that place for me. His talent with words just breaks me. And I so deeply admire how powerfully he uses his voice and his power in the world — his celebrity. He uses it to help. In big and small ways.”

To anyone wondering how Vernoff got so lucky, know that it’s been a while since she won a contest. “When I was 7 years old, I won a plant at a party. It had pink flowers on it. I still remember it. This is better than that.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.