A week of cafe catch-ups, eating out and some horse race at the weekend has been merely a warm-up act for Sydney’s reopening.
As hundreds of jubilant theatregoers flashed their vaccine certificates and took their seats on Tuesday night for the return of Hamilton – the first major Sydney theatre production to return to the stage – lockdown was officially behind them.
The reopening at the Lyric theatre wasn’t invite-only, but for the public – many of whom had tickets to one of the 133 performances cancelled during the past three months.
Jennifer O’Neill, wearing a sequinned mask to match a glittering bag, had been waiting almost a year since she bought her original tickets for 26 June – the first Sydney show scratched due to the latest Covid outbreak.
Her patience was rewarded with $10 tickets in the lottery for reopening night.
“Putting makeup on, getting dressed up, getting your nails done – it’s so exciting to have that bit of freedom, it’s like the world is nearly like it was before.”
If the fans have missed live theatre, the Hamilton Australia cast and crew have missed them even more.
“Oh it’s been rough, but together we have prevailed,” King George III (Brent Hill) declared in a special pre-show address to his “subjects”, to mark the occasion.
“Life without theatre and the arts has been so very dull, wouldn’t you agree? Which is why I’m overjoyed to officially declare: Sydney, we’re back!”
Even at 75% capacity, the Lyric Theatre crowd responded to the monarch’s pronouncement with raucous applause.
An even bigger cheer came just a few minutes later, with the entrance of the show’s star, Alexander Hamilton, played by Jason Arrow.
Before the performance, Arrow said he had spent the more than three months in lockdown studying the US founding father, “thinking, ‘What am I missing?’, and just trying to find something more in the character that I could bring to the stage”.
Being banished from the stage and separated from each other has left its mark.
“The show feels very different,” Arrow said. “It just feels more grounded, more real, the stakes are really high moment to moment.
“As people change and grow – and obviously in lockdown, people go through a lot of stuff – it can really bring out different parts of you, different sides of you and different character traits.”
By the interval, audience member PJ Clarke’s voice had grown raspy from a combination of frequent cheering, and a jubilant reunion with friends.
“I haven’t seen this many people in a couple of months, so it’s very overwhelming, but what a great way to open the gate and enjoy ourselves.
“I feel like I’m a kid at a candy shop tonight … I think everybody has been pining to spoil themselves and celebrate, and what better way to do that than this show.”
When the Australian production of Hamilton opened in March, Sydney was the only place to see the record-breaking Broadway show. Now it joins six other productions playing around the world.
Rah Gardiner was back to see the show for the eighth time – she’s seen it twice on London’s West End, and five times already in Sydney. She runs a Facebook group for Australian fans who can’t get enough.
“There’s the complexity of the lyrics and also the choreography – there’s a lot of hidden messages in the choreography – so every time you see it you learn something, it’s quite beautiful.”
Gardiner will soon be back again, along with tens of thousands of other Hamilton ticket holders. With Come from Away reopening at the Capitol theatre on Wednesday, followed by Merrily We Roll Along at the Hayes on Thursday, musical theatre fans are getting the first taste of the city’s return.