’Hamilton’ will be a revolution for the Australian entertainment industry’s checkered history with diversity ― a systemic issue “people will no longer accept”, according to the cast of the Australian production.
When ‘Hamilton’ opens at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre on March 17, performers who reflect Australia’s true identity will hit the stage as a collective for perhaps the first time.
“In Australia, well, you’ve seen musicals here,” Lyndon Watts, who will play Aaron Burr, said of the industry’s struggle to include culturally diverse Australians.
“We’re moving into a space where we are becoming more inclusive and seeing our country reflected in a more representative way, but that certainly hasn’t been the case historically.”
Lyndon told HuffPost Australia his body felt jolted when he saw an entire cast on stage that looked like him when he watched ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway six years ago.
“It affected me on a cellular level,” said the actor, whose dad comes from the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
“It was deeply inspiring.”
By injecting hip-hop and R&B into show tunes and adding race-bending characters, writer and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda retells the story of America cutting ties with the British monarchy to find its independence. It focuses on the founding fathers of the United States and the life of Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US Treasury.
The Pulitzer-winning musical swept the 2016 Tony Awards, won a Grammy, picked up many Oliviers in the UK and landed on Disney+ to a mass audience in 2020. A lifetime worth of change has happened since its 2015 debut. Some might say the world turned upside down.
Since Broadway is still shuttered from COVID-19, the creators of the original phenomenon, including Miranda and musical supervisor and composer Alex Lacamoire, have been heavily invested in the resurrection of their first-born. They’ve personally picked the cast of young, diverse Australians and New Zealanders, including three First Nations actors, with ‘Top End Wedding’ star Shaka Cook as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison.
Lyndon said musical theatre is about telling authentic human stories, but it also must reflect what we look really like as a community.
“If you’re not doing that with the right people ― that means having people of colour, having queer people and having people with different gender identities in your space, in your writing, in your creation ― you’re not doing it right,” he said.
“You’re doing half the job. You’re presenting a limited view of our existence.”
Lack of diversity in theatre “may become less and less likely” as it becomes less lucrative for productions to create a limited view of the Australian identity.
“We’re seeing a cultural shift. People are no longer accepting it,” he said.
“When people do make decisions that are limiting (what we look like), people are speaking out more because it’s more of an obvious issue.”
The timing of ‘Hamilton’, essentially a tale of an immigrant overcoming adversity to help build a nation from scratch, is seminal for Australia, given the country’s deep involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement and the overall lack of reconciliation for First Nations Australians.
Chloé Zuel, who plays Eliza Hamilton in the production, is hopeful ‘Hamilton’ will not only lay the foundations for a new-look Australian entertainment industry but also initiate change that is more far-reaching.
“I think this has set a precedent as to how this should be done and can be done,” she said.
Chloé said Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s landmark interview with Oprah Winfrey made her consider Australia’s stance on independence.
“That (the interview) was what triggered my thinking about it, the fact we give the royals the status that they have,” she said.
“I have been thinking about how Australia is still connected to the British and how America broke away. I hadn’t thought about it too much until this show.”
But that’s the beauty of ‘Hamilton’, Chloé said, it challenges us to self-assess, reflect and campaign for a better world.
She added: “The show is here at the right time, at a time when we’re ready to receive information and make changes.”
‘Hamilton’ will make its Australian Premiere at the Sydney Lyric Theatre from 17 March. Tickets only via Ticketmaster.