Australia’s theatre capital takes its turn to host the Room Where It Happens, as Hamilton arrives in sensational form, setting off a theatrical powder keg at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.
With the benefit of a year of performances, albeit a somewhat interrupted year, an immediately noticeable aspect of the Melbourne season is the tremendous growth seen in the dazzlingly dynamic performances of the young cast members since the Sydney premiere. Stage presence, depth of character and palpable chemistry abound, enriching and enlivening the iconic work to its sizzling best.
Opening on Broadway in 2015, Hamilton’s world domination rapidly accelerated in 2016, when it won 11 Tony Awards, including, of course, Best Musical, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In the intervening years, the singular vision of deservedly adulated composer Lin-Manuel Miranda is yet to be matched, with Hamilton still the hottest ticket on the planet.
Written for a US market, where theatregoers really know their country’s history, Hamilton works perfectly well as a stage spectacle but local audiences are advised to do a little pre-show reading so as to better appreciate the characters and context. Adding a degree of complexity is the fact that four of the lead players switch over to new roles in act two. These aspects are offset by the cast members’ heightened understanding of their characters and connections. This understanding enhances the storytelling clarity of Thomas Kail’s sharp direction, significantly assisting audience comprehension.
A further boost comes from the combination of the immaculate sound design and the pristine diction of the cast. Local fans may well have listened to the score countless times and watched the Disney+ filmed version on repeat, and yet they are bound to pick up any number of lyrics that they have never absorbed before. The lyrical leitmotifs and complex internal rhymes of Miranda’s lyrics can be enjoyed with ease, with the lead singers finding an abundance of unique expression and dynamics while making the roles their own.
Hamilton also looks beautiful on the stage of Her Majesty’s, a house renowned for the ready bond it facilitates between audience and performer. Kail’s direction and Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography are performed with crisp precision, with surging waves of energy yielding to tender moments of quiet, all the while holding the audience enthralled and highly entertained.
Giving confident support to the cast as they perform a range of musical styles (it’s not all hip hop) is music director and conductor Laura Tipoki. Miranda’s music and the orchestrations of music supervisor Alex Lacamoire provide the genuine thrill of a live concert, converting newcomers to the addictive beats at first listen.
While the full ensemble cast has shown impressive growth, the most significant improvement has been achieved by Jason Arrow. WIth the strength of the title character now firmly in place, the whole show hums at a more exciting frequency. Arrow now has the role in his bones, so to speak, and can really lean into even the most rapid fire lyrics to bring out myriad quirks of expression, gentle humour and warm camaraderie. Arrow now conveys Hamilton’s life journey with distinction, providing a genuine centre of gravity for the men and women who swirl about him. Bravo!
Meanwhile, purring panther Lyndon Watts remains an utterly compelling stage presence, using his entire physicality to craft a scintillating characterisation. In Watts’ hands, Burr seems to practically conjure up act two showstopper “The Room Where It Happens” out of sheer will. The Salieri to Hamilton’s Mozart, Watts conveys Burr’s gnawing jealousy as a festering undercurrent that will not be quieted, convincingly letting the darkness overwhelm the man as he falls into his awful role in the story’s tragedy.
With an endearing sparkle in his eye, Marty Alix charms in the dual roles of noble soldier John Laurens and cherished son Phillip Hamilton. Victory Ndukwe finds new levels in Lafayette and Jefferson, convincingly separating the two roles and proving plenty of appealing stage charisma.
In the key role of Washington, Matu Ngaropo has a wonderfully commanding presence, his strong acting and terrific diction ensuring that key plot points land with abundant impact. Shaka Cook brings a subversive sense of rebellion to Hercules Mulligan, contrasting this effectively with the far more conservative James Madison in act two.
Akina Edmonds grounds Angelica Schuyler in compassionate warmth, neatly offsetting this with a lightly flirtatious air. Given precious little to do as Peggy Schuyler, Elandrah Eramiha shimmers in act two as sultry seductress Maria Reynolds, deftly conveying a healthy dose of doubt in the young woman’s mind under pressure from her reprehensible husband.
At this performance, the role of Eliza was played by Tigist Strode. Strode’s youth may mean that Peggy does not really look like the youngest Schuyler sister, but Strode makes for a lovely Eliza, delivering a poignant rendition of delicate act two ballad “Burn” and closing the show with affecting sweetness and vulnerability in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.”
Looking every bit the brash, overgrown man-child, Brent Ashley Hill winningly wrings every delightful laugh from King George.
As vital as any lead role, the ensemble works as a living, breathing unit, occasionally enjoying individual moments in the spotlight but generally blending seamlessly as one. Any individual player can be watched at any time, always focused, in character, singing soulfully and dancing with exceptional grace and strength.
Prices are high, but Hamilton is worth every dollar. Melbourne’s legion music theatre lovers are set for a heady feast as Hamilton soars above the hype to deliver magical musical memories.
Man in Chair reviewed the original Australian cast of Hamilton in Sydney
Man in Chair reviewed the original West End cast of Hamilton in London
Man in Chair reviewed the original Broadway cast of Hamilton in New York
Photos: Daniel Boud