Review by Suzanne Tate
History has never been so interesting! Hamilton is an outstanding theatrical experience that was well worth the wait for it to hit Melbourne’s East End theatre district. I was amongst the many people who eased the pain of waiting for Hamilton to hit Melbourne with a Disney subscription and the ability to watch the original Broadway cast of Hamilton perform. We all know that nothing can beat the atmosphere of live theatre, but I will admit to some concern about whether the new cast would live up to expectations set by the Broadway cast… but that concern was completely unfounded! The entire performance was mesmerising, with nothing lacking.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Book, Music and Lyrics have brought Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton to life in the most mesmerising way. Miranda was attracted to the unlikely story of a penniless immigrant who rises to be one of the Founding Fathers of America, George Washington’s right-hand man, and the first Secretary of the Treasury. The story, directed by Thomas Kail, with Dean Drieberg as the Resident Director in Australia, takes us through the American Revolution and the political upheaval of the birth of a new nation, while also focusing on the life of Hamilton as a man, with human foibles and personal tragedy. The music is primarily Hip Hop, with elements of R&B, pop, soul, and more traditional musical show tunes. In some scenes the rap music flows like spoken word poetry, which adds to its power, and is very appropriate for a show about revolution. Laura Tipoki as Musical Director, with the cast and musicians led the audience on a magical musical journey. I am not a fan of hip hop music, but I find the score of Hamilton remarkable. It is powerful and emotive. It can raise the hair on your arms and give you goosebumps, make your heart race, or bring tears to your eyes.
The music is stunning, but it takes a special cast to master it and present it at its best. From tongue-tying lyrics to beautiful harmonies, this cast excelled. In the title role, Jason Arrow was extremely believable as Hamilton. We felt Hamilton’s passion, drive and arrogance, and the audience loved him because, not in spite of, his faults. Akina Edmonds, Tigist Strode (for this performance) and Elandrah Eramiha, as Schuyler sisters Angelica, Eliza and Peggy gave a wonderful performance, with Edmonds and Strode in particular demonstrating exquisite vocal control. A stand out was Brent Ashley Hill playing the crowd favourite King George.
Excellent comedic timing and a versatile, powerful voice made him a delight to watch. Another role(s) that brought some needed light-hearted notes to this generally serious story was the dual roles of Marquis De Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, ably portrayed by Victory Ndukwe. The entire cast was polished and eminently believable in their roles. Matu Ngaropo gave a powerful performance as George Washington and Lyndon Watts, as Aaron Burr skilfully showed us how an ambitious, but cautious man can believably be driven from extending the hand of friendship, to aiming a duelling pistol at said friend. Overall, the cast was outstanding, to the point it seems unfair to not mention every name. Even the members of the ensemble were compelling to watch.
It was interesting to see first-hand, how a story that is intrinsically linked with America’s history and the patriotism of its citizen’s, could resonate so strongly with an Australian audience. It does not need to be about your own country – the performance stands alone because of its beauty, creativity and power, and no personal connection is needed. Although maybe it is not so surprising – many people in Melbourne can feel a connection to an immigrant trying to make his mark on his new home.
The power and emotion in Hamilton does not only come from the incredible music, but from the exceptional choreography, created by Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and supported in Australia by Brendan Yates as Resident Dance Supervisor. Hamilton’s choreography is stunning. The majority of the stage direction reads like a dance, including the movement of set and props on and off stage, which is completed with grace and beauty by the cast. The choreography makes use of the revolving stage to create mesmerising movement and dioramas that tell stories as varied as walking through downtown New York, guests interacting at a wedding or soldiers charging into battle.
The costumes, designed by Paul Tazewell, help tell the story, as Hamilton evolves from student, to revolutionary, soldier, lawyer and finally, successful politician. The passage of time is articulated explicitly within the music, but is also clearly shown through the changes to the costumes of the Schuyler sisters, as women’s fashion changes over the years.
The set, suggestive of downtown New York, designed by David Korins is the backdrop for the entire story. While the setting does not match every location, it is never a distraction, and more intimate interiors are suggested by clever movement of furniture and cast. From my perspective on the right-hand side of the stalls, there was one issue with set design and stage direction at this venue. At stage left was a tall staircase, on wheels, where several cast members performed. Unfortunately, it was entirely invisible to those sitting in the four or five seats on that side of the theatre, until it was rolled to stage centre near the end of the show. These were generally majorly significant proclamations, and not being able to tell where the disembodied voice was coming from was frustrating. The lighting, designed by Howell Blinkley and managed in Australia by Hugh Hamilton, as Australian Associate Lighting Designer was seamless, and supported the storytelling appropriately.
Hamilton is currently booking tickets through to August – do not miss out on this moving theatre event!
For more information: https://hamiltonmusical.com.au/melbourne/