The sensation that is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is currently playing to 100% capacity audiences in the Lyric Theatre at Sydney’s Star Casino. During its premiere, Tony Award Winning producer Jeffrey Seller quoted one of the show’s most memorable lines, “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now”. Indeed, when you sit in front of David Korin’s overwhelmingly spacious, yet intricately detailed set, you can’t help but hear those words resonating in your mind.
Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Rob Chernow, the multi-million-dollar machine that is the musical Hamilton has been making strides since its inception at the hands of lyrical genius, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the orchestrations gifted to its genesis by Alex Lacamoire. Reviewing Hamilton is, in itself, no easy feat, as the musical itself is not your average run-of-the-mill production to deconstruct. We are instead positioned to take in Thomas Kail’s direction, which harnesses ever single millisecond of potential that the book, music and lyrics divaricate in the theatre.
At its foundation, Hamilton is, first and foremost, a patriotic portrayal of America as it was, told by America as it is, or rather, as it could be. The attention to historical integrity combined with its inventiveness and exuberance sets it apart from works of its kind. Miranda is the leading composer in the genre of musical hip-hop and he’s embedded this into the historical characters being seen on stage, making them more relevant than they have been in years, whilst empowering them with the ability to stretch beyond their origin.
Sewed into the multiple layers of Kail’s production however, is the multitude of questions regarding legacy, love, history and ambition; the universal themes that even the bard himself threw into the wider echelon of the thinking world.
In the titular role of Alexander Hamilton himself (and understudying for Jason Arrow at this production) was Callan Purcell, a proud Wiradjuri man who grew up on Awabakal country. Understudying for Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette/Jefferson, Laurens/Philip and King George III respectively, you can forgive Purcell for literally thinking that “history has its eyes” on him. Stepping onto the stage initially, the immediate look of a younger Hamilton was jarring. Physically, it seemed that Purcell was literally embodying the “young, scrappy and hungry,” Hamilton, which sometimes pushed the character’s believability and chemistry with his cast to its boundaries. Despite this however, it was clear that Purcell warmed into his role as the show progressed, partly helped by the immensely capable leads with which he was surrounded.
Playing opposite Hamilton, Lyndon Watts’ Aaron Burr was the show’s standout. Embodying Burr with characterisation that was at once alluring, suppressed, obnoxious and demandingly humorous, Watts showed a prowess that brought one of the most unique portrayals to the character seen from productions to date. Burr’s insatiable appetite for Hamilton’s ambition came to its climax in ‘The Room Where it Happens,’ where Watts quite nearly evoked an early standing ovation from the crowd.
As the Schuyler Sisters, Angelica (Akina Edmonds), Eliza (Chloe Zuel), and Peggy (Elandra Eramiha), you could not find a more delectably talented and connected trio. Whether you were being overpowered by Edmonds demanding voice that seemed to stretch to every corner of the Lyric Theatre, or you were hypnotically lost into Zuel’s heartbreakingly ferocious rendition of ‘Burn’, you were not left wanting more.
In the shoes of the first President of the United States and lead general, John Washington, was understudy Winston Hillyer. With a baritone voice that perhaps seemed to propel Washington into an over-ambitious tone of indignation for the majority of General Washington’s scenes, Hillyer seemed to go through the motions of Washington’s character. It wasn’t until ‘One Last Time’ that Hillyer truly showed where his talents lied as he manipulated every single chord and note that he possibly could out of President Washington’s ballad.
Stealing the audience’s laughs and quite literally demanding our attention, Brent Hills’ King George III was incorrigibly childish with a professional sense of humour and timing that milked every millisecond on stage – a short, sharp whip of his golden staff in the direction of an early audience applauding demonstrated this.
Rounding out the named cast was Shaka Cook’s Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Victory Ndukwe as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson and Jimmie “J.J” Jeter’s John Laurens/Philip Hamilton. All three performers brought moments of unique humour, heart and depthto each of their roles respectively, although at times you may have been wanting more from some. Ndukwe’s Jefferson never quite seemed to live up to the hype of the character when first flamboyantly waltzing their way onto the stage.
The backbone of Hamilton though, lays in its ensemble. Gifted with the challenge of performing Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, each ensemble member brought an energy that at times quite literally stole the spotlight from their rapping counterparts. Seemingly led by Daniel Assetta in some instances, Blankenbuehler’s choreography never looked so gorgeously perfected on stage.
With technical difficulties detracting from the show’s more impactful moments – the revolve seemed much slower in the first act before technicians fixed it during intermission – some of the production may not have lived up to the comparison of the incomparably recorded version on Disney +. And for those pessimists out there who may turn their pompous noses up at the American history fanfare in the shows final moments, perhaps these miniscule inconsistencies may have been enough to turn them off.
Firmly imprinted in the musical world as perhaps the defining musical of a generation, Hamilton is an unmissable production that will have audience clicking that lottery button to see the show repeatedly before it eventually departs our shores. With Australia being the envy of the world in its return to theatre, Hamilton may be the gift we need right now to turn the world’s renaissance of creative spark into a flame.
Hamilton is now playing at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre
Book, Music and Lyrics – Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music Orchestrations – Alex Lacamoire
Choreography – Andy Blankenbuehler
Director – Thomas Kail
Resident Director – Amy Campbell
Resident Dance Supervisor – Brendan Yeates
Music Director/Conductor – Laura Tipoki
Technical Director – Richard Martin
Casting Director – Lauren Wiley
Executive Producer – Maggie Brohn
Executive Producer & General Management – Michael Cassel Group
About the author
Justin is an actor, writer, teacher and European tour guide. Raised in Western Sydney, he always had an avid love for theatre and the spontaneous. Being a Drama and English trained teacher, Justin has developed his writing for publishers such as Theatre People and ArtsHub. Justin’s past theatre credits include directing Stiles and Drew’s Soho Cinders, the ‘brave’ Sir Robin in Spamalot for Arcadians Theatre and the French Taunter/Tim in Spamalot for Springers UK, and his debut role as Muldoon in Jurassic: That is One Big Pile of Musical. As the years have gone by, Justin has taken a great interest in swallowing as much theatre as he can and bringing it to the masses through the establishment of Theatre Thoughts.