Last night the hit musical Hamilton was seen by paying audiences in Australia for the first time.
It is the only company in the world that performs the show, in one of the only countries where cinemas have reopened.
And a few hours before the curtains were lifted, its star Jason Arrow, a relatively newcomer, was understandably excited.
“The energy tonight will be indescribable and we are absolutely going to feed off of it,” he told Guardian Australia, in costume and backstage at the Lyric Theater in Sydney. “I’m so excited for people to see this … Go ahead!”
After a performance Tuesday for friends and family, Wednesday was the show’s first preview of the show before the official opening on March 27, the first night critics are invited to review.
Original producer Jeffrey Seller is among those who have spent two weeks in hotel quarantine for it, but its creator and original leader, Lin-Manuel Miranda, couldn’t make it work.
It’s a bittersweet moment, says Miranda; Broadway has been completely closed for over a year. Opening night would have been nice.
“I am envious and have incredible hope that live theater is happening somewhere,” he tells Guardian Australia via Zoom from his home in New York. “And congratulations on doing all the work necessary to make that happen.”
Inspired by the 2004 biography of Ron Chernow, Hamilton tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton through hip-hop-infused music and a cast comprised of predominantly people of color. It has won 11 Tonys, a Pulitzer and a Grammy since it opened on Broadway in 2015, breaking numerous records for ticket sales and soundtrack broadcasts before breaking another last year, when production of the original cast landed on Disney + and everyone saw it right away.
The touring shows have toured North America and Puerto Rico, with productions set up in Chicago and London, but Sydney is their newest and only active company. Although the casting started a few years ago, the show was delayed by Covid-19 and rehearsals only started in January. Miranda has reached out to offer advice and encouragement, as has much of the original creative team.
“I know how seriously the Australian company is taking it,” says Miranda. “It’s kind of a badge of honor that they’re the only ones playing Hamilton in the world right now.”
Lyndon Watts, who will play Aaron Burr, echoes the sentiment: “It actually becomes a sacred thing,” he said in a media call this week. “We are globally representing artists and actors who cannot find their way onto the stage right now.”
That is not all they represent. The November cast announcement came amid an urgent conversation about cultural diversity in the industry. Australia’s most lucrative musical theater scholarship had been literally canceled after a long list of targets was revealed, and a movement known as the Quarter was campaigning for structural change.
Miranda knew of the tensions her program was entering; he had met the Australian creative team in 2019, at a Christmas party. “They had been in New York soaked [the Broadway show] upstairs, watching the traffic behind the scenes, learning what they could learn. And I was able to talk to them about all of those things. At that time we were in the middle of the casting, ”he says.
“We also knew from talking to [Australian producer] Michael Cassel and the folks on the ground in Australia that the other great conversation besides [diverse casts] – it was finding local talent, ”he says. In October, for example, the Australian production of Pippin controversially issued to a Broadway artist in the role of the lead actor rather than a local actor of color.
“It has never been our spirit to bring members from other companies to bring the show to them. We want to take the time and find an amazing Australian company, with all the diversity that goes into the initial momentum of the show itself. “
Arrow, who is South African-Australian, leads a main cast of people of color from Australia and New Zealand. (As always, an exception is made for King George III, played in Australia by white actor Brent Hill.) Chloé Zuel plays Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler, with Akina Edmonds and Elandrah Eramiha as her sisters Angelica and Peggy. Matu Ngaropo plays George Washington; Victory Ndukwe will play Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson; and Innawonga actor Shaka Cook will play Hercules Mulligan and James Madison.
Miranda participated in the casting and said Arrow “ate [his audition] like i’m hungry”; for The Guardian, he also remembers being beaten by Ngaropo. “To have this incredible audition for George Washington by an actor of Indian descent, and then have everything that reverberates from that decision,” he enthuses.
“It was very late at night in America when Australian cast announcement video came out and: woke me up. The excitement of that video in Australia was aroused. I. Until.”
The 2020 Black Lives Matter movement brought new criticism to the musical, which has been called upon for sidestepping the fact that most of its heroes, including Hamilton himself, either owned slaves, profited from slavery, or kept silent about the system. . that allowed it.
“I have been open throughout the process about how much I struggled with it. Slavery is the original sin of our country and all the characters in our program are accomplices, ”says Miranda. “It is a valid criticism because it is not a history book. It’s the most part of the boy’s life that could fit in two and a half hours. “
Speaking to Guardian Australia last month, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler admitted that he would be “curious if Lin gets mad” about playing with the show. “So much has changed in the world this year, it will be interesting to see if the little things change here and there.” But when asked directly, Miranda’s response is blunt: “No. It took me six years to write what you have! “
However, die-hard fans who think they know all the words will have some disorienting moments. One occurs in the song Your Obedient Servant, when Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel: “Stand up Alexander / Weehawken, dawn / Arms drawn.”
Miranda recalls conducting a survey of the British company to see if anyone knew what “Weehawken” was.
“They’d say, ‘Does that mean we’re about to fight? I like it, ‘Are we hawkin ?!‘”Miranda laughs. “I was like, ‘Uh, no … look, I’m going to change it to Jersey.’ (He also removed a reference to the Potomac: Australians wouldn’t know what it means, he says, “unless you’re a West Wing Fan.”)
Miranda has celebrated art as an essential means of escape and catharsis during the pandemic. To overcome his own confinement, he found himself turning to books. “One of the first books I read [during the pandemic] it was a Shakespearean story. That phrase said, ‘Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague,’ ”he says, in a voice that embodies the arrogance of a person who would say that. “I was like, ‘Made he? Is that What are we supposed to do now? Because I’m just trying to figure out how to get out of my house and come back and wash my hands. “
But the book that gave him “a huge livelihood” this year, he says, is Mark Harris’s biography of American producer, director and actor Mike Nichols. “Mike Nichols changed Broadway and then broke up with his partner, and that was his first act. He had a nine-act life!
“It was incredibly inspiring to read about someone who had these successes, these massive failures, and then bounced back,” he says. “In the moments when it seems like everything is stagnant forever, it is very important to remember that life is long.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism