By Sheroog Kubur, August 9 2022—
How does a play about an orphaned founding father become one of the most well-known musicals in our modern age? The answer is by reinventing what it means to be a sung-through musical and shift understandings of both American history and modern Broadway. Hamilton has become, without a doubt, a modern theatrical classic. Those interested in musical theatre have not only heard of the play but also have become familiar with its iconic lines and representations of the founding fathers. Its Calgary debut was one long awaited and celebrated, and the show did not disappoint.
One of the most daunting tasks an actor can take on is the portrayal of a beloved character, but Julius Thomas III did it with grace and ease. He turned Alexander Hamilton into his own through choices that brought new life to everyone’s favourite bastard orphan. Keeping up with the changing rhythms and melodies between each track is no easy task, but Thomas didn’t seem to struggle. He was bold and brash in his delivery of the lyrics, spitting out insults and transforming the original songs into his own. Despite all of this, Thomas shone the most in the more intimate moments of the play — complementing Donald Webber Jr. as Aaron Burr beautifully in “Dear Theodosia” and delivering the emptiness of Hamilton in “It’s Quiet Uptown” perfectly. Anyone in the audience could tell that was when Thomas felt the most at home, and it was refreshing. Hamilton is a play that is carried by its high tension moments and to have an actor pay careful attention to the portrayal of its more timid scenes was brilliant.
The chemistry between characters in both acts was unrivalled. Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens and Marquis de Lafayette had an unmatched energy, bringing life to the stage without trying too hard. One standout was Brandon Louis Armstong, who played Mulligan in act one and James Madison in act two. He undoubtedly had the best flow of anyone on stage, delivering Mulligan’s quick quips and cheeky one-liners perfectly. His presence as Mulligan was loud and impossible to ignore, making each of his verses a delight to witness. Paris Nix, who played Lafayette in act one and Thomas Jefferson in act two, stood out as Jefferson the most as well. He was a boisterous presence that captured the attitude perfectly. In “What’d I Miss,” he encouraged the crowd to sing the lyrics “Thomas Jefferson’s coming home” alongside the ensemble like a rockstar commanding the stage and in “The Reynolds Pamphlet” he proudly led Burr and Madison upstage to boast about Hamilton’s failure. One memorable moment was the pianist flaunting his own copy of the Reynolds Pamphlet towards the end of the song, reminding viewers that Hamilton truly did dig his own grave. Needless to say, Nix added personality to act two in moments where the show might’ve been emotionally taxing.
Despite the play being named after Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and Eliza Schuyler define this show. Both characters play instrumental roles in Hamilton’s development and being able to capture their importance is essential. Webber as Burr was phenomenal and an almost perfect counterpart to Thomas. The two had incredible synergy, making the moments of vulnerability feel more personal and intense. They both understood the emotional depth of the story and dedicated their energy into exploring that depth, making the sensation that is Hamilton feel more raw. Victoria Ann Scovens mastered depicting Eliza’s emotional arc, taking viewers on a journey with each song. She stood out the most in “Burn,” which was a rollercoaster of emotions in itself.
Hamilton is not only a play, but an experience. Seeing it come to life with a unique cast and staging is a must for anyone interested in musical theatre to any capacity. To have the show finally play in Calgary after years of delays due to global events was cathartic. It’s a creative marvel that uses each aspect of the theatre brilliantly, and its live performances will always supersede the digital recording. In a show that relies on strong presences to make sense of the story and music, the cast surpassed expectations and took a fresh take with their interpretations. Hamilton in Calgary was everything fans wanted to be and more, and we can’t wait to see what its next iteration will look like.