Over two thousand Toronto theatre fans crowd around the Victoria Street and the Young Street entrance to the Ed Mirvish Theatre, chatting excitedly and clutching envelopes with tickets they have had since last October. They have been waiting for this moment for five years. Now it’s finally their chance to see smash-hit Broadway musical, Hamilton.
The Hamilton National Tour, the Phillip Tour, is finally open in Toronto. In case you’re unfamiliar, Hamilton is the biggest Broadway blockbuster of the last decade. It was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, directed by Thomas Kail, choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, and orchestrated by Alex Lacamoire. In 2016, the play won eleven out of the sixteen Tony Awards it was nominated for, including Best Musical. The show is a hip-hop inspired musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s Founding Fathers, and his journey from a forgotten spot in the Caribbean to New York to becoming one of the most important American figures in the 18th century.
Like Alexander Hamilton’s life, the show is fast-paced and non-stop. The show opens with Aaron Burr (Jared Dixon), who is the show’s narrator (and later delivers two show-stopping numbers “Wait For It” and “The Room Where It Happens”), introducing Alexander Hamilton (Joseph Morales) and his backstory of how he got to America.
Throughout the first act, we are introduced to most of the main characters and Hamilton’s friends: John Laurens (Elijah Malcomb), Hercules Mulligan (Desmond Sean Ellington), Marquis de Lafayette (Warren Egypt Franklin) as they try to change the world during the American Revolution. We are also introduced to the Schuyler sisters, Eliza (Stephanie Jae Park), Angelica (Meecah) and Peggy (Julia Estrada), who add a feminist touch to the musical as they talked about wanting to be included in the sequel. The women also create a love triangle, which always means trouble as Alex wants to be with Angelica and Eliza and Angelica both want to be with Alex. The rest of the first act guides us through Hamilton’s time fighting in the American Revolution. The Battle of Yorktown number might just be the best staged number of any musical I’ve seen in a long time.
Act Two is about governing the country they have just created. The cast members who played Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette switch characters for the rest of the show playing Phillip Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson respectively. Governing doesn’t seem like a good topic for a musical but Miranda makes it more fun and exciting by including rap battles and a jazzy, sassy Jefferson as Hamilton’s number one political adversary. The thing about this show is that it’s truly humorous at times, and not just when King George III (Neil Haskell) makes an appearance.
We also get more into Alex and Eliza’s relationship and their family in Act Two. Their son Phillip is now nine years old, Angelica moves to London with her husband, and Hamilton’s non-stop work attitude leads to problems with his wife. Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds may have been a low point in his life but it was a high point in the show as Estrada’s voice soared through the theatre during “Say No To This.” From then on, Hamilton’s life spirals into chaos, which is visually depicted with the direction and the use of the double turntables constantly spinning on the set. Hamilton loses his job, his wife, and his son. Malcomb’s performance was also excellent as both Phillip and John Laurens. He brought such a fun, youthful energy to the stage, which was just delightful.
The most striking part of the production, beyond David Korins’ gorgeous and clever set and Blankenbuehler’s jaw-dropping choreography, was the fact that the majority of the cast are people of colour. It was not colour blind casting but rather colour conscious casting; the creators of the show intended for people of colour to play characters that were white males. Something about that really landed, especially on the line “Immigrants, we get the job done.”
The show really was a lot of fun to watch. Although it is mostly sung-through and you get the whole story on the cast album, there’s just something incredible about finally seeing it performed. A story about celebrating diversity, hope, and optimism is just what the world needs right now.