Much like Ginger Rogers' famous adage about having to do everything backwards and in high heels, Chloe Zuel, Akina Edmonds and Elandrah Eramiha have to do everything the men of hit new musical Hamilton do, with the addition of heavy silk dresses. As the Schuyler sisters at the very heart of the story, they have to contend with the show's full-on physicality, in costumes that have a habit of getting caught in the staircases that flank the set.
“We are owning these dresses,” New Zealander Edmonds, who plays Angelica, laughs. “It’s like another scene partner, having to add that in on top of the revolve, making sure that you make space for each other and let the dresses speak and move the way they deserve to. I mean, the design is incredible.”
Chloé Zuel, as Eliza Hamilton, says it feels like slipping into couture every night. “We have such a respect for those beautiful silk costumes and the detail and the precision in making them. They are absolutely stunning.”
Every detail counts in a show as elaborate and lovingly rendered as Hamilton. Zuel memorably stepped into Anita’s shoes in West Side Story, took on Ronette in Little Shop of Horrors and played Joanne in Rent. She appeared in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical alongside Edmonds and Jason Arrow, who plays Alexander Hamilton himself. She was also Catherine of Aragorn in Six the Musical, until the world turned upside down last year. But Hamilton is in a league of its own, she says. “I just adore the show.”
I speak to Zuel, Edmonds and Eramiha the day after the first preview opens at the Lyric. It's safe to say their excitement is electric. It feels like a celebration of theatre itself after the year that wasn't. Edmonds got the call in late February 2020 and had to keep quiet for a full year, one that didn’t go according to plan for any of us. She had jumped back over the ditch for what was meant to be a two-month gig, but that stretched out inexorably when borders closed behind her. “I went through so many feelings,” she recalls. “I grieved the show. I thought, ‘it’s not gonna happen’.”
Luckily for her, and us, the show did go on. “It felt like I was auditioning again by the time we got to rehearsals, because so many lifetimes have happened in between getting it and opening the previews.”
She says that together with Zuel and Eramiha, they make it easy for one another. “Chloe and I have worked together for a wee while,” Edmonds says. “Let’s not get into how long, because then age becomes a thing, and Elandrah and I share a Pacific Islands, Polynesian vibe. So we already bring in quite a lot of home stuff to our offstage relationship, which then translates to onstage.”
This is so life and game-changing. Growing up, I never saw this on stage, so being a part of the change, and sharing the story with people who look like me and who have the same interests and upbringing, is just unheard of.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow women of colour is empowering, Eramiha agrees. “This is so life and game-changing. Growing up, I never saw this on stage, so being a part of the change, and sharing the story with people who look like me and who have the same interests and upbringing, is just unheard of. So it’s even more special to be on stage with them. It’s so emotional every day.”
And it felt that way from the very first rehearsals, she adds, with the extended cast. “I think it was like a week in, we just looked at each other, like, ‘I know you.' Even though we’ve never met before. It’s just a familiarity that I’ve never experienced before, and that’s quite beautiful.”
Alexander Hamilton could not have done what he did without those women in his life, without standing on their shoulders, supporting him to get to where he needed to go
That solidarity builds on their sorority, and it shines in the Schulyer sisters too. “Alexander Hamilton could not have done what he did without those women in his life, without standing on their shoulders, supporting him to get to where he needed to go,” Zuel says.
Power radiates from these roles, and from an ensemble of Australian and New Zealander actors of colour appearing in the only production of Hamilton currently being staged anywhere in the world right now. The rapturous response to the opening number on the first preview night was overwhelming, Eramiha says, particularly after spending last year in Melbourne’s extended lockdown. “When Jason stepped forward and says ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the roaring was insane,” she recalls. “I’m standing there looking at him and trying not to cry, not to laugh or smile. I didn’t know what to do.”
Of course, ‘The Schulyer Sisters’ was also a highlight. And for Zuel, that first standing ovation when the curtain fell is a moment she will never forget. “I felt really, really proud of all of us for what we’ve accomplished, and a real sense of joy, knowing that all the work that we had done was being put out there into the world and appreciated by 2,300 people. That felt very special for me and emotionally overwhelming.”
Edmonds is glad she got back to Australia in time to be in the room where it happens, with rapt audiences. “It’s not just about the show anymore,” she says. “Our producers, and the venue, kept them safe so we could be at 100 per cent capacity, so they could share with us their joy of being in the theatre. We know that they’re prepped as much as we are. There are some super fans out there.”
As she sees it, it’s about honouring every other cast that has stood in Hamilton’s assorted shoes. “It’s epic, beyond and transcendent. And so, for me, all my tears came in the bows. And it was nice to be a vessel for that. For all of that honour and gratitude and hard work. Because let’s be real, this shiz is hard work. But it is equally rewarding, dresses and all.”