Review: Hamilton | Sydney

A Stylish Production That Overshadows Its Female Characters

By Christine Chen

By now everyone knows about the highly acclaimed production that is Hamilton. A musical about the captivating legacy of a founding father and his ambition to shape American history – a legacy rescued from obscurity by the creative mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Now that the production has finally arrived in Sydney, Christine discusses whether it lives up to the hype.

Having watched the musical in April, I can confidently say that the Sydney version of Hamilton is just as fantastic as the original and the only caveat is that it may not resonate strongly with Australian viewers who are ambivalent to American history. It wasn’t the perfect musical, but it's incredibly enjoyable and overall, well worth the pricey entry-ticket.

The strength of Hamilton lays with its musical score. It includes an eclectic mix of styles ranging from soulful ballads like “Burn” and “Hurricane”, to energetic R&B, hip-hop and rap ensembles such as “My Shot" that keep you on the edge of your seat. The vocals by the cast are top-notch and comparable to the original cast. Jimmie Jeter, who plays the protagonist Alexander Hamilton, sounds almost exactly like Miranda himself. The choreography is also impeccable, in particular, the use of sequences which give off the effect that every movement is happening in slow motion or in rewind. It feels as if someone has edited in special effects on top of a live-action scene.

As for the casting, it's worth noting the diversity in both the cultural backgrounds of the cast and their individual singing styles. Everyone delivers strong performances, but there are a few standouts. In particular, Chloe Zuel shines in her role as Eliza Hamilton, the wife of Alexander Hamilton, her voice being so clear, pure and angelic that it truly reflects the kind-heartedness of her character. Brent Hill (King George III) is also one of the highlights of the cast, and serves as the comic relief in a musical that feels like it's taking itself a bit too seriously at times, with the snarky and cynical lyrics of his musical piece “You’ll Be Back” being one of my favourite moments. 

Despite the diversity of the cast and the appraisal of Hamilton as a ‘modern day masterpiece’, the minimal roles played by the women in Hamilton is disappointing. They're overshadowed by their male counterparts. None of the Schuyler sisters feel central to the plot despite there being potential for them to play a more significant part in story. The play clearly and (somewhat ironically) introduces them as strong, passionate characters through assigning them musical scores with powerful, moving lyrics. But, as the self-proclaimed “wittiest” of the three, we never see Angelica’s wit in action, and a great deal of her pivotal moments and her sister Eliza Schuyler’s in the play involve them pining after Hamilton’s affections (or mourning the loss of it). 

We receive no real insight into their own perspectives on the political ideas at the time, and Eliza’s final scene which recounts her achievement of opening the first private orphanage in New York City isn't given more than a few seconds of screen time. Even the idea of her opening an orphanage was inspired from her marriage to Hamilton – who himself was an orphan. It almost feels like the main purpose of the sisters is to accentuate Hamilton’s flaws and show his humanity, which is a shame given that they could have played a much more active, as opposed to reactive role in the story.

The story of Alexander Hamilton may lose some of its impact in an Australian context as it is in essence, a tale of the American dream, of relentless ambition, of revolution, and the key moments which lead to America’s independence. On the upside, experiencing Hamilton is likely to get you interested in American history and musical theatre more broadly, which I think is critical in a time like this when the art industry has taken somewhat of a battering. Hopefully this marks the return of theatre in a post-pandemic world - I certainly will be on the lookout for the next spectacle…although I daresay there is unlikely to be a Hamilton 2.0 any time soon.

Author's Bio: Christine is a fifth year student studying Commerce and Law who secretly wishes she could have done Arts as a third degree. A tea/coffee addict, she spends her free time brunching at cafes, reading books and exploring cultural events in Sydney.

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