I always think that there is nothing finer in dramatic arts than when theatre combines all its elements, incorporates new ideas from the outside to give it that extra zing, and goes out with a bang – a big musical with a difference.
THE REVOLUTION is that production, and it is into its second week of performance at Moresby Arts Theatre (MAT).
‘The Revolution’ is based on the life of American secretary of Treasury, statesman and founding father, Alexander Hamilton. The play incorporates hip-hop, rhythm and blues, soul music, pop music and traditional style show tunes all the while giving a most interesting lesson in history, telling of the main points of Hamilton’s 50-year life.
Studying Hamilton’s life, it is no wonder the play should be so successful. Hamilton’s rise from destitution as an orphan and immigrant through sheer will and a very keen mind to joining America’s highest echelons of power during the country’s founding days, his helping to win the American Revolution, setting about laying the foundations of government and its financial systems, the scandals that shook both his professional and personal life, and the dramatic circumstances surrounding his death contribute all the elements needed for a great drama.
The play comprises 48 songs – 24 on each side of a 15-minute intermission, and its adaptation as ‘The Revolution’ to the MAT stage by young Port Moresby-based American Hannah Allen (Director), tries to keep as close to the original as possible, considering MAT’s many limitations.
The Revolution is made up of 24 cast members. Lead roles are being played by Godfreeman Kaptigau (Alexander Hamilton), Nelson Kokoa (Aaron Burr), Vibhu Guru (Eliza Hamilton), Robert Vaso (George Washington), Maggie Roessler (Angelica Schyler), Meschach Bala (Thomas Jefferson), Denzel Peipul (John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton), Hannah Allen (Gilbert Lafayette), Dan Lovi (Hercules Mulligan), Graham Grou (James Madison), Karynn Druma (King George) and Oscar McVey (young Phillip Hamilton). Music director is Sevese Tupou.
The production opens with the scene-setting song ‘Alexander Hamilton’ – a summary of the story where Hamilton’s childhood and migration to the United States from the Caribbean are revealed. ‘Aaron Burr, Sir’ follows soon after, and it is this crossing-of-paths appearances of Hamilton and Aaron Burr that we see beginning here.
The third song, ‘My Shot’ is perhaps the most significant of the play as it underpins Hamilton’s story. ‘The Schyler Sisters’ introduces the family that Hamilton would marry into, ‘The Farmer Refuted’ is the actual name of one of Hamilton’s first political writings opposing the Loyalist cause, and in ‘You’ll Be Back’, King George III is seen issuing a warning to the colonists they would and should return to the Crown or he’ll “send a full battalion to kill you all to show you of my love”. Such wit like that pepper the lyrics right throughout.
Hamilton marries Eliza Schyler in ‘Helpless’ (song 10) and by the time song 15 ‘Ten Dual Commandments’ come around, the play is well and truly in the middle of the American Revolution. The choreography of the battle scenes are brilliant, high energy and Allen has done a splendid job harnessing the youth and energy of her ‘young people’ cast.
George Washington is furious that Hamilton is out there risking his neck fighting and orders him to go home to his family (Song 16, ‘Meet Me Inside’). Hamilton returns home and finds out Eliza is pregnant. She pleads with him to stay home (‘That Would be Enough’). The war continues, the revolutionaries win the war and at song 20 ‘Yorktown’, the British surrender.
As the intermission approaches, Burr and Hamilton are seen singing to their newborns – Burr to daughter Theodosia and Hamilton to son Phillip (‘Dear Theodosia’), and ‘Non-stop (song 24) – Hamilton’s selection to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, his engagement of James Madison and John Jay to write a series of essays in support of the Constitution and Hamilton’s appointment as the Treasury secretary despite Eliza’s protests – ends Act 1.
Act 2 opens with Thomas Jefferson’s return to the US from France where he had been ambassador and his collaboration with James Madison to stop Hamilton’s financial plans (‘What Did I Miss’). This leads them to a debate in cabinet (‘Cabinet Battle #1’).
However, Hamilton becomes embroiled in scandal when he has an affair with a married woman and then falls victim to extortion from her husband (‘Say No to This’), and in ‘The Room Where It Happens’, Burr is enviously singing of his exclusion from the dinner meeting that led to the Compromise of 1790 where Jefferson and Madison agreed to back Hamilton’s plans in exchange for moving the US capital from New York to Washington DC, a location closer to Jefferson’s home in Virginia.
By the time the audience gets to ‘Washington On Your Side’ (song 32), it is plain to see the level of support the first president has been giving to Hamilton and also Burr’s, Jefferson’s and Madison’s envy of Hamilton.
‘One Last Time’ (song 33) is Washington’s farewell song. He is not running again for presidency and is saying goodbye. This is an important point in American history when the country has to get used to others apart from Washington holding the position of presidency. Lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda very cleverly pulled down parts of the actual text of the Farewell Address and put Washington’s words (some written by Hamilton) to song, making them very powerful. It is hard to not get choked up with emotion or become awed at the words of America’s very first president.
Robert Vaso, on the MAT stage with his quiet demeanor, portrays a fatherly Washington beautifully and delivers an affecting version of the presidential farewell.
Song 35 ‘The Adam’s Administration’ is Hamilton’s attack of John Adams, after the second US president fired him; ‘We Know’, a confrontation between Burr, Jefferson and Madison where the sex scandal comes to light; ‘Hurricane’, a plan to get out of the controversy (‘The Reynold’s Phamplet’); and ‘Burn’ sees his broken-hearted wife Eliza burn all his letters.
Vibru Guru’s portrayal of a very sad Mrs Eliza Hamilton sitting there burning his letters is enough to draw a tear from women in the audience.
Without giving away too much about the resolution of the play, things begin to slide for Hamilton and by the time Song 43 ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ comes by, Hamilton’s life takes a complete turn-around after the death of his son, Phillip. Godfreeman Kaptigau (Hamilton) delivers a solid performance right from the beginning and he shines in Song 43. Kaptigau also excels in delivering a poignant soliloquy Hamilton gives about life, death, relationships and his legacy toward the end. It is difficult to hold tears back at these points.
Nelson Kokoa does a good job as Burr; Dan Lovai (Mulligan) impresses with a near-perfect round of rapping; and the other strongest performance comes from Maggie Roessler (Angelica). Roessler’s vocal range and sturdy acting keep the storyline moving wonderfully and the drama high.
Allen in this debut directorial role has done well, giving ‘The Revolution’ her own spin in many little areas of stagecraft, yet leaving the dynamics of the show untouched and still full of energy and aplomb.
The Revolution re-opened for the second week on Thursday 26 April and continues Friday, Saturday (two shows with a matinee) and Sunday (matinee). Evening shows begin at 7pm and matinees are 1pm. Tickets can be purchased at the gate at MAT, the Boroko Foodworld stores, and Holiday Inn.
A tip from this writer: quickly google ‘Alexander Hamilton’ and read up a couple of pages on him before watching the play. It will help you to appreciate how impressive Hamilton truly was as a person and a founding father of what is now the mightiest country in the world.
Most of us will not get a chance to see Hamilton on stage in America, so this is an excellent opportunity to do so, enjoy the richness of great music, dance and storytelling, and support the live arts in Port Moresby.