By: Yelin Gemma Lee, Arts & Culture Editor and Yasmin Vejs Simsek, Staff Writer
This June, Broadway Across Canada is bringing the beloved and multiple award-winning musical Hamilton to Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical shook the world of theatre with a score rooted in rap, hip-hop, jazz, and R&B. Broadway Across Canada states it “has had a profound impact on culture, politics, and education.” The Pulitzer-winning musical is famous for casting predominantly Black and POC actors to tell a story of the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution.
One of us has rewatched Hamilton on Disney+ over ten times since its release to the streaming service, and one of us has never watched it before in any format. Here are our different and honest perspectives on what we thought of the live performance.
A whole new world — by Gem
Having watched and appreciated other movie versions of musicals I thought I knew what I was walking into but boy, was I wrong. The show began with a few upbeat songs back-to-back and it was then that I realized, in horror, that this three-hour story was not going to have any non-musical dialogue. Despite this, I was honestly floored by the hip-hop and R&B dominant score; it made for a refreshing and unexpected sound that gripped your attention. But because so many of the scores with important dialogue were done in rapid-fire rap, I missed (no exaggeration) 80% of what was said. With no way to add subtitles and having not watched Hamilton before, I strained to keep up with the details of the plot.
The storyline left me flabbergasted. I’m no history buff, but weren’t all of the Founding Fathers white? I wasn’t sure how I felt about the Founding Fathers being painted as morally righteous friends until I sat with it after the production. Given that casting choices and genres explored by the scorebook were intentional, I took this as a message that the origin story of America belonged to the African Americans. America was a country built by Black people, so what a different country it could have been if they had the political power to follow.
The main cast was excellent, with unbelievably powerful voices that never strained or faltered and facial expressions that quickly pivoted between dramatic changes in emotions. The ensemble, however, was what shocked me the most. The only other Broadway play I had seen used technology, sound, and lighting effects to do the work of the ensemble. In Hamilton, the ensemble was the shouting consciousness of the characters, the tension in the air, and the slowing and speeding of time. Based on how the ensemble moved, they clearly represented flashbacks and internal monologues, and several times they even became the deadly bullets moving through the air.
Although it was a very long performance and no one told me how much my eyes would hurt from the lighting, Hamilton left me feeling electrified.
Not my first rodeo — by Yasmin
If you told me two years ago that I would become obsessed with a musical about the American Revolution with no dialogue, to the point where the music takes up my entire Spotify Wrapped, I would have said, there’s no way! I had tickets to see Hamilton in London when the pandemic hit, and I’ve had to wait two years to finally watch it here in Vancouver and I was not disappointed.
The scenography was basically identical to the filmed stage version on Disney+, I found it evident that director Thomas Kail likely asked the cast to come into their characters in their own way, rather than attempt to mimic Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr., who played the main characters Hamilton and Burr in the original Broadway version. Most of the main cast did a wonderful job standing out with their vocal range and emotional delivery; however, I was disappointed with Julius Thomas III, who portrayed Alexander Hamilton. Compared to his fellow cast members, his voice did not project the same level of emotion and range and it was a tad disappointing after having watched Miranda deliver it with such heart.
When you’re listening to the soundtrack daily, you will have memorized the lines by now. And I am happy that I did because there is no way you can watch this stage production for the first time and understand more than half. The mix of rap and hip-hop makes for a fun and different broadway musical, but it doesn’t lend any help with understanding the complexities of the storyline. I suggest you watch the filmed version with subtitles before you go as it’ll only make you more excited to watch it live. Don’t worry, masks are still mandatory in the theatre, so no one will see you mouthing along to the lyrics.