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Birthing a nation (while raising the roof)

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 25, 2023 5:00 am

There’s a temptation to think that a historic musical set centuries ago cannot possibly resonate through the ages. In truth, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton couldn’t be more timely, resonant, and energizing since it premiered on Broadway in 2015.

The issues—immigrant dreams, human aspirations, and limitations, the very crafting of a nation—feel like they’re still very much on the table today, when “democracy with a small d” seems in greater peril than ever around the world.

Do we need democracy? Hamilton might make you a believer again.

The Michael Cassel Group and GMG Productions launched this robust international cast and show at Solaire Theatre with a strong gala premiere Thursday, and Manila was ready. There was even Rachelle Ann Go, playing the beleaguered Eliza Hamilton, whose first appearance onstage elicited whoops and cheers.

Yeah, bringing Hamilton onto Manila turf seems like a long-held dream. Cassel called it a “natural” decision to have the opening in Manila, what with Filipinos’ response to Miss Saigon, The Lion King, and musical theater in general.

Speaking of Go—what a powerhouse, and a world-class voice. The UK-based West Ender had a dream of doing this role in her home country. Her Eliza Schuyler presents such a petite figure onstage next to her sisters, but with a voice that cuts through the theater. She is a standout in Helpless.

Jason Arrow as Alexander Hamilton

Then there’s our main man: Jason Arrow as Alexander Hamilton, aspiring immigrant during the birth of a nation, first US Treasury Secretary, and main writer of “The Federalist Papers,” a series of published essays that anticipated most (maybe not all—looking at you, Trump) pitfalls and quagmires that might beset a new country trying to shake off the shackles of a colonizer. The main question still resonates: how to stop a would-be king from taking control?

Arrow is a strong presence and belter in this rapid-fire rap libretto that was built on color-blind casting. And not only color-blind, Rajo Laurel mentioned to my wife that this show is actually very “body-positive”: Arrow’s Alexander is not quite as slender as the figure shown in Constitutional Convention paintings: he’s real life, with a dad bod.

Rachelle Ann Go (left) originated her Eliza Schuyler onstage in London’s West End.

But the main reasons Hamilton was such a smash globally and connects just as well with Filipino audiences: this is a tragedy about a guy with dreams, someone who labored at the side of George Washington, never got his “shot” as president, but contains all the ingredients of a flawed, brilliant human being in a difficult moment of history. So, you know, something of a hero. And heroes have their tragic flaws. Eliza spells it out in scene after scene, as Hamilton chooses statecraft over staying home: “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” (Foreshadowing, y’all.)

Then there is his human weakness, giving in to a temptress and blackmailer, which he bravely mea culpas to and tries to carry on, his reputation bruised but not broken.

Soapbox musical: A rapid-fire libretto gets to the beating heart of birthing a nation.

This brings us to Thomas Jefferson (David Park, who doubles as Marquis de Lafayette) and Aaron Burr (DeAundre’ Woods), frequent foes of Hamilton who switch sides the way pols tend to do. Having watched the original cast (on Disney+), it’s great to see Park in the role of Jefferson. The color-blind wheel of fortune spins randomly, and he brings a different energy: just as strong a voice, if not quite the same dance moves. (His Jefferson carries the weight of a taunting schoolboy, rather than a flamboyant party boy.)

Woods as Burr is the perpetual outsider: The motives of jealousy towards Hamilton, not being in “the room where it happens,” motivate him towards a tragic end. (Check him plotting with Madison and Jefferson in Washington On Your Side: super jelly.) As the play progresses from first meeting Hamilton, he brings a vivid gravitas to his plight that comes alive on the Solaire stage.

You’ll be back: Brent Hill as King George

Brent Hill takes the King George character to different places than Jonathon Groff, throwing off Benny Hill vibes as he ad-libs a few dance moves during his three show numbers.

What else? Darnell Abraham’s Washington shivers the timbers of Solaire Theatre during his bowing-out number, One Last Time: a clarion call of a voice.

And Go’s final numbers (Burn, The World Was Wide Enough) smolder with incandescent emotion.

Hamilton on the field of battle in a Sydney production

As always, the sound system of Solaire is crystal-clear: you can really hear the full dynamic range, making each syllable and pregnant silence that much more resonant.

Seeing Hamilton live, you do realize what a well-oiled, precise mechanism it’s meant to be: the music, dance, acting, and language are seamlessly brought together. The numbers are standouts, the message is empowering, and the phrases last forever: “Life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints.” “I’m gonna write my way out.” “Immigrants: we get the job done.”

Sure, there’s a lot of political language to digest, but the message is always local. The triumph is in a libretto that puts you straight into emotions of characters that are clear, universal—and sometimes tragic. To turn the microcosmic into the macrocosmic, with the flick of a hand or a phrase: That’s something rarely delivered on any stage.

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Catch Hamilton at Solaire Theatre until November. For information on tickets and Hamilton Lottery details, visit Manila tour is presented by Michael Cassel Group and GMG Productions. Visit for updates.