It’s the world’s biggest musical and it opened at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney on Saturday night, giving audiences exactly what they expected and wanted. Hamilton is the smash hit American history musical which has so far won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize when it debuted on Broadway in 2015.
Since then, both critics and audiences have raved about the show the world over so we’re happy to report the Sydney version of Hamilton is as good as everyone hoped it would be – adding a few nice touches and definitely keeping the tradition which is everything ‘Hamilton‘ alive!
So when it was announced Sydney would hold the show, everyone knew it would need to match the other productions – in performances, staging, production and direction. Thankfully it achieves this in spades – and yes, it really is as good as you’ve heard it is.
So far nearly 8 million people around the globe have watched Hamilton live and another three million have watched it on Disney+ when it opened on the streaming platform only back in mid 2020. As well, nearly the full soundtrack of Hamilton has had nearly 8 million views on YouTube and nearly 45 million people have viewed the first song of the Broadway production on YouTube. That’s why the person who wrote it – Lin-Manuel Miranda – is now almost as well-known as his show.
How can a story about the American Revolution strike a chord with so many?
It seems obvious now, but when Hamilton first came out in New York in 2015 and we heard a musical about the American Revolution – set to hip-hop and rap – was bringing the house down, it seemed a little unlikely a show like this could keep up this widespread appeal and acclaim.
But it has. It’s writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has harnessed the power of one of the greatest stories of all time – the American revolution – and set it to modern music so it virtually grabs you by the throat and demands you listen.
You must have been hiding under a rock if you haven’t heard some of Hamilton’s songs by now – especially if you’re in the 18 – 30 age group who virtually claim the show as their own. It’s likely you could know the words of every song – even though they’re spoken at a hundred miles and hour, covering the events of the American revolution with an intelligence and humour which defies our preconceptions of musical theatre.
If you’re a novice, you can swot up by listening to the soundtrack on Spotify before you go or watching the original Broadway cast version on Disney+ because otherwise you can miss some key points as they zing past you, rapid fire.
Should you make the effort to see Hamilton live?
Because you can enjoy Hamilton in the comfort of your own home, it does beg the question – is it worth the effort and expense of seeing it live? We can only answer with a resounding ‘Yes!’
Because even though this is a completely new cast, every person on stage seems to understand the essence of what Hamilton is all about. Every move made, every action taken, is performed with the passion and precision we’ve come to know and expect from a Hamilton production. From the big musical numbers such as My Shot to the romantic, Helpless, we’re treated to performances which fire us up or melt our heart – the quintessential qualities of musical theatre at its best.
Hamilton tradition of reimagining the US founding fathers as men of colour is upheld
The Australian cast has kept up the Hamilton tradition of purposely challenging the stereotypes of theatre by exploring the themes of race, immigration and colonisation. Each production of Hamilton has reimagined the US’s founding fathers as men of colour and the Australian production includes three performers of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.
These performers are Shaka Cook who plays Hercules Mulligan, Torres Strait Islander Tainga Savage is in the ensemble, along with Callan Purcell, a Wiradjuri man. Other backgrounds represented in the cast include Samoan, Maori, Filipino, Jamaican, South African, Nigerian, Egyptian, Japanese and Italian.
All the performers play their roles incredibly well. Jason Arrow plays Alexander Hamilton and while he’s a newcomer to a major role like this, he rises to the challenge and gives us the wit and charisma we would expect. Hamilton’s best frenemy is Aaron Burr and Lyndon Watts plays this character with just as much presence as his adversary, maintaining the constant sparring between them as it becomes a pivotal part of the show.
Perhaps now’s the time for Lin-Manuel Miranda to write a new story about the women of this era?
While the women in the Australian production of Hamilton are quite exceptional and their story is fascinating to watch, their role is still very much as the ‘love interests’ of the American founding fathers. In the environment we live in today, where women are demanding to be heard every day – and succeeding – this seems a glaring omission.
While we can enjoy the performances of the women in Hamilton, we’re sure there could be more told about these amazing women of this era. Sure – at the very end of the show, Eliza Hamilton (played by Chloe Zuel) tells us she’s ‘written herself back into the narrative’ and she now runs an orphanage in New York, helping homeless children. We finally get a sense of a woman who has a life of her own.
But if you research it, it turns out Eliza always had a life of her own – she was not only the wife of one of America’s founding fathers – she was an inspirational and successful philanthropist throughout her life and one whose impact is still felt today.
And another fact along these lines – George Washington’s wife, Martha, is not part of Hamilton the show, but she was an interesting woman who stood by Washington as America’s first lady and ended up freeing their 123 slaves early in 1801.
In these days of the 2000’s, a story about these stoic, exceptional women would go down well. If only Lin-Manuel Miranda had found a way to work these stories into his musical – but perhaps it’s something we’ll see further down the track?
Seeing Hamilton strikes a chord in everyone who attends – read here an honest reaction from someone who attended the show in Sydney on the weekend….
People! Crowds! A full house and the excitement of a big Broadway show already of cult status. And it had me from the first word. I was in heaven. We were all in for an emotional, important and living experience – as one – sharing the theatrical experience again!!!
I was enchanted from beginning to end. One always knows when one is in for a good night. When actors sublimate their personal ego to the “telling of the story”- to the “purpose” of the story, something’s gonna happen. We knew we were in for a thrill.
And what an emotional, meaningful and enlightening experience that was. And one would go far to find a story more important than the fledgling democracy that changed the world, the American revolutionary epic. The greatest story ever told.
How Washington took a ragtag, small untrained army, to confront the 32,000 highly trained British troops and through seven long years, with ultimate support of the French – won. And then led the move to actually create the higher principles of our underlying equality and the right to joy in each others existence to a state of government .
Washington knew the potential and talent of young, loyal officers. This night sees this epic through the eyes of one of those young officers – Alexander Hamilton. Through Hamilton’s story , we feel tied up on the higher viewpoints that led to our freedoms today. The energy, skill, movement and music, tells us this story is not dead .
We fell the energy and excitement when young men and women are in touch with a known timeless principle. And I for one left , hoping that the young fans perhaps were seeing something more than their stars. I prayed they would feel their responsibility to Hamilton, to fight for and not carelessly erode, these principles.
Sad to see Jefferson, so much the heart of the real revolution, whose efforts helped bring the French into the fight and whose cannons ultimately ensured the final victory, so demeaned.
Hamilton’s systems gave the impetus to the super power we see today in America. But Jefferson, who foresaw this, wanted something more people-orientated. That was his battle with Hamilton – he did not represent the interests of the money-grabbing south. He was a true revolutionary – the author of the famous American Declaration of Independence. It was Jefferson and Madison who truly represented the revolutionary vision.
Still, Hamilton is an amazing show – GO see it now! BUT read history and know it is slanted towards an ambitious Scotsman who played a part.