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Review: HAMILTON at Ottawa's National Arts Centre

Review: HAMILTON at Ottawa's National Arts Centre

With catchy songs and clever lyrics in a variety of styles, including hip hop, there really is something for everyone to be found in Hamilton.

Hamilton (Philip Company)
Company - HAMILTON National Tour
(c) Joan Marcus 2021

Last night, Broadway Across Canada treated Ottawa to Hamilton's first performance of an almost three-week run at the National Arts Centre. After two years of COVID-19 related delays, the anticipation for the show was huge and the excitement of the crowd was palpable. From the moment the house lights dimmed, the audience roared their approval.

As its title suggests, Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton (Pierre Jean Gonzalez), one of the founding fathers of the United States. Although this may appear to be an unlikely subject matter for a Broadway show, stranger things have happened [here's looking at you, Come From Away].

Born out of wedlock in the British West Indies in present-day Nevis, Hamilton was denied traditional schooling because of his parentage. His mother died when he was only 13 and from there, Hamilton had to make his own way in the world. He sold cargo to pay for his schooling and lodgings and eventually moved to New York City and graduated from King's College, now known as Columbia University.

Hamilton (Philip Company)
Company - HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus 2021

From these humble beginnings, Hamilton built an impressive resumé. He fought in the American revolution, made himself indispensable as George Washington's (Marcus Choi) senior aide, was a treasury secretary, a member of Congress, a practicing lawyer, and became the founder of the New York Bank, the first financial institution in the United States. His face still features on the US ten-dollar bill.

The show touches upon these historical elements and stresses the fact that Hamilton came from nothing and forged his own successes. That is not to say that he was without fault or that he did not make some decisions that had devastating consequences. This is painfully obvious when it comes to his personal life. His wife, Eliza (Vanessa Magula), endured heartbreak more than once as a direct result of Hamilton's actions, but always emerged with dignity and grace. Eliza's story, though secondary to Hamilton's in the show, is just as engaging.

Hamilton (Philip Company)
Stephanie Jae Park, Ta'Rea Campbell, Paige Smallwood
HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus 2021

Each touring production is named after a character in the show. The Ottawa touring cast has the "Philip" moniker attached to it. It is generally expected that touring production casts may not always be as experienced as those you might see on the Great White Way, but performances from the entire Philip Tour were on par with their Broadway counterparts. The standout to me was Ta'Rea Campbell in the role of Angelica - she gave a powerful performance and stole the scene whenever she appeared. Her vocals in one of my favourite songs, "It's Quiet Uptown", were so heartfelt, it quite literally brought tears to my eyes. Jared Dixon and Gonzalez as Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, respectively, were both outstanding and commanded the stage with their presence. Magula portrayed Eliza as simultaneously sweet and strong. Magula understudies the role of Eliza, but you would never know it from her performance.

Hamilton (Philip Company)
Neil Haskell - HAMILTON National Tour
(c) Joan Marcus 2021

Neil Haskell elicited laughter and applause whenever he appeared as King George, even subtlety referencing his character's madness and near-abdication in his final reprise.

Even though Lin Manuel Miranda (book, music, and lyrics) provides the audience with an American history lesson, it doesn't mean that this is not entertainment at its finest. With catchy songs and clever lyrics in a variety of styles, including hip hop, there really is something for everyone to be found in Hamilton. A highlight for me was when Hamilton and Burr face off in a cabinet meeting to explain their respective political positions in a rap battle - and I don't even generally like rap music!

The choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler) is astounding; the ensemble shows off their talent every time they appear on stage, but most notably during "Yorktown". Even though the set design (David Korins) seems relatively simple at first glance, it is utilized in interesting ways and the use of two levels, moving staircases, and a turntable keeps the characters traveling throughout the space.

Hamilton (Philip Company)
Company-HAMILTON National Tour - (c) Joan Marcus 2021

It is easy to see why Hamilton won 11 Tony awards and has proved to be enduring - it has a varied, modern style, strong characters that are developed over the course of the show, and an empowering message.

Although it is true that the show can be seen with the original Broadway cast in all its glory on Disney+, if you are on the fence about getting tickets, Hamilton is undoubtedly worth seeing in person. In the spirit of making Broadway accessible to everyone, Hamilton is offering a chance to win lottery tickets for $10 per seat (maximum two tickets). Download the Hamilton app on Google Play or the Apple App Store for more details and to enter. After all, as Aaron Burr says, you "gotta be in the room where it happens".

Broadway Across Canada presents Hamilton at the National Arts Centre through July 31st. Click here for tickets and showtimes.

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