Hamilton - Michael Cassel Group

‘Hamilton’ // Michael Cassel Group

‘Hamilton’ was real. 

Some say history is written by the winners, some say we can never truly know the past, and others still say we are doomed to repeat it. ‘Hamilton’ flips this all on its head by retelling a historical narrative with voices that have often been left unheard. The Australian cast and crew have not only done the piece justice, they have expanded the reach of Hamilton’s message, and demanded respect for the BIPOC community in the creative arts. 

Conceived and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, ‘Hamilton’ is surprisingly real and down to earth. Following the life of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father of the United States, the story could easily have become engulfed in politics and the past. While the political events and motives are the driving force behind the plot, it is the realness and timelessness, of the people and their relationships, that comes to the forefront. 

Since its premiere Off-Broadway in 2015, ‘Hamilton’ has had numerous renditions including a Disney+ special. Winner of 11 Tony Awards, Hamilton has quickly become a household name. The piece is ground-breaking for its collision of hip-hop, R&B, soul and traditional musical theatre genres. Moreover, all productions of ‘Hamilton’ are required to employ colour-conscious casting, to ensure diversity and underrepresented performers are given a voice, just like the characters of the narrative. On this front, Australia’s rendition does not disappoint, with creatives of Indigenous, Pacific Islander and various other cultural identities.

Many of the technical aesthetic components were directly in line with the U.S. Disney+ rendition. A stagnate set, designed by David Korins, consisted of a revolving stage in the centre and a series of multi-levelled decks on the surrounds. The dock-like appearance included woods and ropes, with various props moved in and out by cast to create unobtrusive scene changes.

Lighting and sound, designed by Howell Binkley and Nevin Steinberg, respectively, also aligned with previous renditions. The use of bold whites and striking spotlights dominated the show, and created a concert-like atmosphere, fitting for the style of the music throughout. Costuming was the main indicator of the time period and, while stylised for theatrical purposes, made reference to the pieces of late-18th to early-19th century attire. Designer Paul Tazewell incorporated some gender-neutral calico pieces for the ensemble, and these contrasted the strikingly feminine dresses of the Schuyler sisters (pannier included) and the masculine European-style military jackets of the forefathers and co. 

Director Thomas Kail pulled out all the stops to create a dynamic and living show. Movement was key throughout, with every inch of the set utilised, and the revolving platform created a striking visual dimension to the music. In particular, the scene work in ‘Satisfied’ used the platform to transcend time, with slow-motion movements forward and in reverse under dampened lighting and contrasted Angelica Schuyler under a centre spot. This was also a collaboration with Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who combined hip-hop, contemporary and traditional theatrical jazz to create breath-taking dance work in line with the overall style of the show. 

Leading the music of the show, Music Director Laura Tipoki had her instrumentalists visible and exploding with energy from the pit. The precision and zest of the band permeated the show and accompanied the vocalists like a flawless dance.

Jason Arrow filled the key role of Alexander Hamilton with all the presence and demand of a leading man. Arrow commanded the audience’s attention, never tired or lost energy throughout his extensive stage time, and brought light and shade to Hamilton’s story. 

Complimenting Arrow, Jimmie “J.J.” Jeter as Aaron Burr blew it out of the water with his rendition of ‘My Shot’. As a standby, Jeter was able to slide into the role of Burr seamlessly, bringing smooth characterisations and vocals with perfect diction.

Eliza Hamilton, played by Chloe Zuel, stole the show with her stunning vocals in ‘Helpless’ and a heartfelt performance throughout. Sharing moments with Arrow that brought tears to many in the crowd, and conquering the hit number ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ alongside Akina Edmonds as Angelica Schuyler and Elandrah Eramiha as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds, Zuel was a powerhouse not to be underestimated.

Equally as stunning, Edmonds captivated the audience with scene work and chemistry that was raw and moving. ‘Satisfied’ was a masterclass in perfect collaboration between performer and director, showcasing Edmonds’ skill as well as the layers of meaning in the lyrics. Similarly, Marty Alix showcased an impressive range of acting abilities as both John Laurens and a young Philip Hamilton. 

Completing the lead cast was Brent Hill as a humorous King George with a beautiful higher vocal register, Matu Ngaropo as George Washington, and Shaka Cook and Victory Ndukwe in multiple significant roles. The latter three were assertive, believable and on point. 

Each and every ensemble member was a next-level triple threat that could have dominated and held the show in their own right. Zachary Webster and Kyla Bartholomeusz were just two examples of the outstanding ensemble members who lived and breathed the show with every muscle, every ounce of energy in their characterisations, dance and song. This is a company of lead performers.

At the end of the show, nearly every audience member gave a standing ovation, with many tears throughout the crowd. Overheard in discussions after the show, BIPOC members of the audience spoke of the pride and satisfaction of seeing their people on the stage. In fact, there was also talk of similar sentiments from people of different shapes and sizes. ‘Hamilton’ is different, because it reflects real people and celebrates uniqueness.

In the concluding number ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story’, the purpose of ‘Hamilton’ comes to fruition and the message of the piece is again stated loud and clear. When Eliza Hamilton sings “I put myself back in the narrative…”, it is made explicit that the show is more than just a retelling of history; it’s putting the spotlight on marginalised voices, both then and now. This makes one think, perhaps the show is titled ‘Hamilton’ not for Alexander, but for Eliza. 

‘Hamilton’ performs until November 2021 at Sydney Lyric Theatre, pending COVID restrictions, and opens at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne in March 2022. For more information visit the official ‘Hamilton: The Musical’ website

Photography by Daniel Boud. 

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