Three years ago, until COVID-19 restrictions shuttered public gatherings such as theatre productions, the hit Broadway show Hamilton was the hottest ticket in Toronto. Theatre lovers from near and far had made elaborate plans to watch the Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning show by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Originally slated for a 2½-month run by Mirvish Productions, the curtains came down on that production after just four weeks onstage.
The wait for the show to go on is finally over. One of the North American touring productions of the sensational hip-hop musical based on the life of the first U.S. treasury-secretary Alexander Hamilton opened at the Princess of Wales Theatre on Wednesday Feb. 22. This particular company of Hamilton got back up and running in August 2021, but will now make its home in Toronto until August 20.
For leading ladies Morgan Wood, Marja Harmon and Rebecca Covington, this is a chance to reconnect with a live audience. It’s also an opportunity to reassess the larger role that a deeply political show that burst into theatre audience’s consciousness in 2015 can play in shaking up the system in both the theatre and political world.
Although audiences may love Hamilton for how accessible it is, the show is incredibly hard to perform, says Covington, who plays the part of Peggy Schuyler, one of the Schuyler sisters, New York socialites with ties to Hamilton.
“It’s just a marathon. Everyone’s on stage, pretty much the whole time – all three hours,” she says. “... It’s one of the hardest things I have ever done. But then when we all get together in one bow at the end, it’s rewarding. I think that’s what makes the show so powerful. That it’s not one person telling a story.”
Besides the physical demands of performing, Hamilton is also a lyrically dense show, adds Harmon, who plays Angelica Schuyler. “It’s just words and words, and it’s a moving train,” she explains, noting “the amount of focus and sometimes stress it takes to even make sure all those words get out, make sure the audience understands and can keep up.”
“And to do it in heels or boots, in corsets and belting, while hitting extremely high notes, there’s just so much involved.”
All three actors agree the pandemic was a scary time, especially for people whose livelihood depends on constantly looking for the next audition and the next part to play.
“We didn’t know when and how we were going to return. And I think it’s still a bit rocky – COVID. It still exists for us, for everyone. Being in the theatre and being in such confined spaces, it’s hard,” says Covington.
The forced break during the pandemic gave her time to examine her life priorities and spend time with her newborn. “What’s worth fighting for, in life? What’s worth taking on? … In our business we’re always looking for what’s next? What can I do? How can I hustle harder? How can I work 14 jobs in two days? So I had a little bit of time to rest, and it was just such a blessing and a curse.”
For Harmon, the pandemic offered a chance to reflect on the shared experience of being in a theatre. “How special is it that people want to gather in a dark space to experience a story, and the transference of energy between the audience and the performers and the storytelling. You can’t believe how much we missed it and craved it,” she says, laughing.
“Yes, we were able to find other ways to perform – online and in Zoom environments. We were able to bring other people who are at home some joy. But it didn’t replace theatre. I think we really got to see how important it is to not take it for granted. So, we definitely come back with a new appreciation and renewed priorities.”
The break from performing gave Wood, who plays Eliza Hamilton, a chance to rediscover herself, which in turn informs her approach to her role as the titular character’s wife, as well as navigating the world around her.
“Frankly, with the tragedy of George Floyd and his murder, and the racial reckoning, that was another iteration of 2020. Those events were really pivotal for me,” she says.
“I had found myself in very white environments until that point. … I felt like I got to get into my Blackness, and just investigate who I am – which I think only helps us in what we do. We got to realize how human we all are. And now I get to bring that new-found grace and empathy to all the characters I have the good fortune of playing.”
While Hamilton has played a significant role in breaking some barriers in the theatre world, by centring what is essentially an immigrant story, a lot of work still needs to be done to address systemic problems, says Covington.
“There’s an ever-evolving fight, and we have made a lot of strides. But there is still so much work to be done,” she says.
“The business model is just exposing itself to be problematic. And I feel like until we can maybe dig a little deeper, until we understand the difference between equality and equity, I think it’s still going to be a very front-facing, a bit of a Band Aid fix.”