Evaluate: HAMILTON Enthralls Edmonton
The wait is over: Broadway blockbuster Hamilton takes center stage at Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, Alexander Hamilton, Pulitzer, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda’s vibrant, racially diverse rap musical re-imagines the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. After opening on Broadway in 2015, it subsequently won a whopping 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical and went on to receive a 2020 film adaptation. Today, there are multiple productions across the globe including three different simultaneous North American tours, one of which just arrived in Edmonton.
The audience is immediately introduced to the young, scrappy, and hungry immigrant, Alexander Hamilton (Julius Thomas III). He immediately immerses himself in his tumultuous world of 1776 New York City, wasting no time in buddying up with other political idealists and dreaming out loud about his own lofty ambitions for his new country. From there, the founding father’s saga unfolds over decades fraught with brutal wars, exhilarating triumphs, devastating failures, and romantic and familial tensions. Brimming with energetic ensemble numbers, poignant ballads, and lightning-fast rap battles, Hamilton treats audiences to world-class musical theater and features over 25 triple threat performers.
Leading the impressive cast is Julius Thomas III, who brings charisma and emotion along with mellifluous vocals. His renditions of expositional opener Alexander Hamilton received thunderous applause, as did the following infectiously catchy group number, My Shot. Thomas III’s vocal proof is matched by that of Donald Webber Jr., who effortlessly portrays Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s ally-turned adversary. Webber Jr. brings wry comedic timing and a commanding stage presence, delivering dry one-liners during his interactions with Thomas III and leading a standout rendition of Act 2 showstopper, The Room Where It Happens. From the moment they first cross paths, the two leading men are engaging to watch and dynamically portray Hamilton and Burr’s precarious not-quite friendship turned rivalry.
The audience is also introduced early on to Hamilton’s love interest turned wife, Eliza (Victoria Ann Scovens) and her sisters, Angelica (played on June 22 by standby, Milika Cherée), and Peggy (portrayed by swing, Charlotte Mary Wen). Though often in the margins of Hamilton’s hectic life, the three actresses shine brighter than their characters’ iconic jewel-toned dresses. Scovens brings poignant emotional depth and crystalline vocals, delivering a heart-breaking version of Act 2 showstopper, Burn. Cherée lends powerhouse vocals and sly humour, bringing vulnerability and recklessness to a woman simultaneously devoted to her sisters and tormented by her undying love for Hamilton. Though often overshadowed by Eliza and Angelica, Wen shines as the youngest Schuyler sister, earning big laughs as she irritably introduces herself in the harmonious triad, The Schuyler Sisters.
Stepping in for other principal cast members were the charming Justin Showell as politician-turned president, Thomas Jefferson and larger-than-life crowd favourite, the Marquis de Lafayette. Among one of the show’s most memorable scenes was Showell’s bombastic performance of What Did I Miss, in which he makes a grand entrance in a flamboyant purple suit. Swing/co.-Dance Captain Eean S. Cochran takes on the roles of soldier and statesman John Laurens and Hamilton and Eliza’s overambitious son, Philip Hamilton.
Among the production’s other most memorable moments are the hilariously smug You’ll Be Back and its two reprises. Rick Negron is an absolute hoot as the infamous British monarch, King George III, garnering applause from the moment he first glides onstage in his ostentatious royal get-up. Even his slightest gloating mannerisms had the audience in stitches.
Rounding out the talented cast are a lithe ensemble of exceptional singers and dancers, who skillfully execute Andy Blankenbuehler’s Tony Award-winning choreography. Every inch of David Korins’ versatile tiered set is utilized, down from the movable staircases to revolving stage. Howell Binkley’s Tony Award-winning lighting design is vivid and evocative while Nevin Steinberg’s sound design emphasizes the drama onstage. Though it is also a treat to experience Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics live, the musical’s pacing lags in the latter half of Act 2 with some of the mounting tension overly drawn out. Despite this, the production is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that will mesmerize die-hard Hamilton fans, delight first-time viewers, and entertain even the most reluctant theatergoers.
Hamilton plays Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium until July 10. Masks are still requested for all audience members.
Photo by Joan Marcus