Hamilton. This word alone is associated with the mega smash-hit award-winning musical about the American Founding Fathers that has altered the brain chemistry of millions of theatregoers worldwide. Brisbane was lucky enough to celebrate being ‘In the Room where it Happens’ on opening night at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC. The company of Hamilton was treated with a roaring reception for the official Sunshine State premiere. The ‘Hamilfans’, as they are affectionately named, rose to their feet for a warm standing ovation to conclude an epic synergy of hip-hop, historic story-telling and emotive revolutionary performance.
The exhilarating music and book by the legend Lin-Manuel Miranda, the captivating choreography and the thrilling cast and orchestral performances were second-to-none. Patrons left the theatre grinning from ear to ear joyously uttering their favourite parts and saying they didn’t want the show to end. It was the most extraordinary audience and night at the theatre Brisbane had experienced in years.
Jason Arrow deservingly embodied the protagonist and title role of Alexander Hamilton. He played the first Treasury Secretary of the United States with pits of passion and vulnerability as he strongly dove into his character’s history and extremely hard but accomplished life. He was brilliantly articulate and sung with passion and conviction.
Brisbane knew the ‘World was wide enough’ for Hamilton and them. Jason walked downstage and delivered his first line and the rumbling anticipation of Hamilton’s entrance erupted with the audience applauding and cheering like it was a rock concert. Jason paused, and the orchestra stopped. It was a jubilant thunderous sound; the city of Brisbane was ecstatic to finally have the genius piece of art at their fingertips. Jason proudly smiled and continued the show, a marathon of a role that he impressively conquered as he hardly left the stage for almost 3 hours.
Arrow’s ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand was impressive, particularly in the ‘I want’ song ‘My shot’ as he interacted with the numerous powerful personalities that filled Hamilton’s life. He had a cheeky and fun-loving side when it came to banding together with Hamilton’s main comrades, Lafayette, Mulligan and Laurens as they fought in the revolution side by side. Jason was born to be on stage and breathe life into this inspirational character, we can’t wait to see how he thrives throughout his career.
Callan Purcell stepped into the shoes of antagonist and narrator, Aaron Burr. The villain in Hamilton’s history had a commanding presence and left his whole soul on the stage as he was never satisfied and was always one step behind the ambitious Hamilton. Callan had a gentle demeanor and genuine disposition as the audience related to his feelings of envy and wanting to be in the spotlight.
Brisbane is Callan’s first-time playing Aaron Burr fulltime. He was a standby in the other Australian cities for a myriad of lead characters. His character waited to act for what he wanted as he beautifully belts out the emotional ballad ‘Wait for it.’ By the end of the legendary play, he learns from Hamilton to ‘seize the opportunity he saw.’ The turning point was in the stunningly performed musical number ‘Room where is happens’ as he realised the only way to get ahead was to fight for it. It was so loud, intentional, and poignant. Callan was such a thrill to watch, and he will continue to rise with impressive performances like that.
The inspirational Eliza Hamilton was personified by the daring and remarkable Martha Berhane. Martha’s trajectory throughout the show was so layered and filled with joy and heartache as the wife of Alexander Hamilton. Martha had the most beautiful stage presence, particularly when the audience was introduced to her in ‘The Schuyler Sisters.’ Martha’s interactions with her onstage sisters were so heartwarming to witness. Additionally, it was so romantic when her eyes lit up in the musical number ‘Helpless’ as she meets Hamilton for the first time and got married all in the same song. She was so vocally breathtaking.
Martha’s shining moment happened in the gorgeous ballad ‘Burn.’ The song depicted her heartbreak when she found out Hamilton was unfaithful and released a document to the public recounting the multiple times he cheated on her. The power in Martha’s voice and her commitment was soulful and devastating simultaneously.
Akina Edmonds took on the beast of a role, Angelica the oldest Schuyler sister. Akina showcased her undeniable talent as the audience discovered what she went through being the oldest female in her family. It was expected that she would marry a wealthy man as women rarely worked for their own money at that time.
Akina’s journey as Angelica was remarkable. Her powerhouse vocals soared through the theatre with such control and care, particularly in her defining moment ‘Satisfied’, in which she spits some sick rhymes with her incredible rapping. This song wrapped up her character’s thought process in one five minute track as she regretted giving Hamilton to her sister, Eliza. Secretly she fell in love the moment she met the man with not a dollar to his name, but thought with her head and not her heart. She brought to light the beautiful love story of the piece, which was the love story between sisters as she was always there for Eliza in her time of need, especially in ‘Take a break’ and ‘The Reynolds Pamphlet.’ Akina was a force to be reckoned with and left her heart on the stage.
Matu Ngaropo gave an astonishingly strong performance as U.S President George Washington. Matu’s presence as a leader on stage, especially to Hamilton, was particularly potent to watch as an audience member. He commanded the stage when the audience first met him in ‘Right hand man’ as he enlisted Hamilton to write his correspondence. His glorious vocal talent was illustrated non-stop but most notably in ‘One Last Time’ as he stepped down from the Presidency. His voice carried to the back of the theatre in a heavenly farewell with the lighting complementing the music beautifully.
Victory Ndukwe brilliantly personified the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. As Lafayette he was unbelievable and rapped the fastest rap in the show with such ease in the number ‘Guns and Ships.’ The audience truly saw his range as an actor in Act 2 as he transformed to become former U.S President Thomas Jefferson with incredible swagger and confidence, particularly in the number ‘What’d I miss’, where you experience the deep south music being from Virginia and you felt his confidence in the Cabinet Battle with Hamilton.
Sami Afuni was a treat to watch. It was hard to believe Hamilton was his professional musical theatre debut. Sami played the dual roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison with power and enthusiasm. During the battle of ‘Yorktown’ as Mulligan when he jumped so high before he began to rap like a boss. As Madison he was sly and mischievous, however emotional when learning of Hamilton’s son’s death. Sami gave a stellar performance and made the audience cheer with delight.
Wern Mak has taken over the roles of John Laurens and Hamilton’s son Philip for the Brisbane season. Wern embodied these characters to his core, constantly being present and finding little nuances in both roles. As Laurens, Hamilton’s closest friend, he fought against slavery of African Americans in the deep South. Wern was so sincere and confident in his choices, especially in ‘Ten Dual Commandments’ as he stood up for what was right and got into a dual with General Charles Lee played by the effervesant, Keanu Gonzalez.
As Philip, Hamilton’s son he was so sweet and bold in the way he portrayed the young man who was proud of his father and played piano with his mother in the song ‘Take a break.’ He hugged his father so tight at 9 years old. Then later in ‘Blow us all away’ his character died at 19 years old when he participated in a dual with George Eacker, played by the marvelous Dayton Tavares. Wern displayed his incomparable range playing the two characters and left the audience emotional as his character passed away.
The third Schuyler sister, Peggy was playfully embodied by Elandrah Eramiha. Elandrah showed off the incredible bond the sisters had at the beginning of the show when the Schuyler sisters were introduced, and her comical little sister persona was brought to life. She kept the audience on their toes as she switched roles in Act 2 to become Hamilton’s sultry intoxicating secret lover, Maria Reynolds. Elandrah magnificently belted out the tune ‘Say no to this’ as she seduced Hamilton to have an affair with her. It was astonishing to see her immense ability playing the two juxtaposing roles.
The regal Brent Hill was crowned the iconic role of King George III. Brent is only on stage for a total of around six minutes during his three songs in the show, but he makes up for it with his hilarious portrayal of the ruthless King. The audience was in stitches as he made comical faces and eye contact with excitable patrons. A notable line in the song, ‘What comes next’ when he mocked the Americans was, ‘Awesome, wow’ but Brent did a Donald Trump impression which gave it more flavour that the audience appreciated. Brent was perfect for the role and relished playing a cheeky, spoiled royal.
Tainga Savage played a multitude of roles including the loving father of the sisters, Philip Schuyler, Maria’s husband the sketchy and arrogant James Reynolds and the empathic family Doctor, and an integral part of the ensemble. Stefan Lagoulis embodied the town cryer, Samuel Seabury in the comedic number ‘Farmer Refuted’. Stefan was so regal but irritated by Hamilton’s interruptions as he spread propaganda and also part of the ensemble as an insane dancer.
One of the highlights of the entire show was Andy Blankenbuehler’s inventive and ingenious choreography that the exhilarating ensemble, swings and standby members of the cast executed to perfection.
Notable dance numbers include, ‘What’d I miss’ – including swing partner dancing to represent the Southern States of America, ‘Right hand man’ – for the soldier like military moves and formations, ‘Yorktown’ – the battle dance and incredible floor work and of course ‘The room where it happens’ – the ensemble completely slayed the creative routine with a fosse type of feel as Burr grappled with his own inner saboteur.
The use of the ensemble with the two turntables that center in the middle of the stage was so effortlessly and effectively utilised in the numbers ‘Satisfied’ when they went back in time and the impact of the lighting during the ‘Hurricane’ on the turntable was captivating.
The ensemble includes Kyla Bartholomeusz, Celine Cleveland, Indigo Hunt, Iosefa Laga’aia, Stefan Lagoulis, HaNy Lee, Tagina Savage, Terrance Spencer and Dayton Tavares. Swings and Standbys that were on stage on opening night included Olivia Carniato (swing), Shewit Belay (standby) and Trevor Santos (swing).
The Standbys include Kirrah Amosa, Alexander Ferguson, Winston Hillyer and Zelia Rose. The Swings are Justin Bryant, Lachlan Dearing, Simon Fairweather, Julian Kuo, Ashton Lash, Emmy Saheki, Romina Villafranca and Zachery Webster. It was super special during the bows at the conclusion of the show when the swings and standbys joined the rest of the company on stage to thank the audience.
Laura Tipoki conducted the opening night performance. As the Musical Director she led the phenomenal dedicated orchestra to beautifully showcase their talents.
Hamilton The Musical, the once-in-a-lifetime production presented by the Michael Cassel Group, offers Brisbane a front row seat to one of the most revolutionary pieces of theatre ever created. The inventive choreography, stunning costuming, the heart of a true story, the imaginative staging, music that makes your heart skip-a-beat and an inclusive cast of talented people, combined creates a ground-breaking unforgettable live theatre experience for Brisbane. The show makes the audience think ‘What is my legacy?’ As the confetti was released on its opening night the cast looked grateful as they bowed on stage to ponder, ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.’
TICKETS 🎟 HAMILTON The Musical – The Lyric Theatre, QPAC until April.
Photo credit Daniel Boud