Hamilton review

Theatre, Musicals Victoria Palace Theatre , St James's Park Until Saturday December 15 2018
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 (© Matthew Murphy)
1/7
© Matthew Murphy

Cleve September (Laurens), Jamael Westman ( Hamilton), Jason Pennycooke (Lafayette) & Tarinn Callender (Mulligan)

 (© Matthew Murphy)
2/7
© Matthew Murphy

Giles Terera (Aaron Burr)

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3/7
© Matthew Murphy

Jamael Westman (Alexander Hamilton) 

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4/7
© Matthew Murphy

Jason Pennycooke (Thomas Jefferson)

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5/7
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Rachelle Ann Go (Eliza Hamilton) and Jamael Westman (Alexander Hamilton)

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6/7
© Matthew Murphy

Rachelle Ann Go (Eliza), Rachel John (Angelica) and Christine Allado (Peggy) - The Schuyler Sisters

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7/7
© Matthew Murphy

Michael Jibson (King George)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s visionary musical lives up to the hype

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. ‘Hamilton’ is stupendously good. Yes, it’s kind of a drag that there’s so much hype around it. But there was a lot of hype around penicillin. And that worked out pretty well. If anything – and I’m truly sorry to say this – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US Treasury, is actually better than the hype suggests.

That’s because lost in some of the more waffly discourse around its diverse casting and sociological import is the fact that ‘Hamilton’ is, first and foremost, a ferociously enjoyable show.

You probably already know that it’s a hip hop musical, something that’s been tried before with limited success. Here it works brilliantly, because Miranda – who wrote everything – understands what mainstream audiences like about hip hop, what mainstream audiences like about musical theatre, and how to craft a brilliant hybrid. Put simply, it’s big emotions and big melodies from the former, and thrilling, funny, technically virtuosic storytelling from the latter.

‘Alexander Hamilton’, the opening tune, exemplifies everything that’s great about the show. It’s got a relentlessly catchy build and momentum, a crackling, edge-of-seat sense of drama, and is absolutely chockablock with information, as the key players stride on to bring us up to speed with the eventful life that Hamilton – the ‘bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman’ – led before he emigrated to America in 1772 as a teenager. (NB there’s no need to swot up on your history – it tells you everything you need to know).

Thomas Kail’s restaged Broadway production is confident but not flashy: a series of taut, almost tableaux-like scenes with a crisp, minimal set and choreography that allows the music, words and the striking figures of the cast – largely BAME actors in period dress – to take centre-stage.

If there were worries a Brit cast might struggle, they’re unfounded. Relative newcomer Jamael Westman is a revelation in the title role: he can spit lines like a machine gun, sing like a dream, and being both young and prodigiously tall he perfectly channels Hamilton’s gaucheness, as the socially inept but relentlessly driven immigrant sets about trying to liberate and reform America with feather-ruffling vigour. Pitched against him is silky smooth Giles Terera as Hamilton’s mentor and nemesis Aaron Burr, a smart, inscrutable career politician increasingly dismayed by the success of Hamilton’s unconventional methods. There’s a touch of Mozart-Salieri to their relationship. But one of the strengths of ‘Hamilton’ is that it’s a rare musical that acknowledges real life is more complicated than heroes and villains: we see that Hamilton is a bit of a dick; we know Burr was hardly evil.

The first half of the show has the most terrific sense of velocity I’ve ever experienced in a theatre production. Miranda and Kail know exactly what buttons to press and when. We get the kinetic, virtuosic, info-heavy numbers. But it’s properly funny too. The interludes in which our very own George III (Michael Jibson) pops up to pass sneering comment are hilarious, and come with an infernally catchy song, the lovely, Beatlesy ballad ‘You’ll Be Back’. Elsewhere Jason Pennycooke is absolutely glorious in the dual role of frenzied Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette and preening, Prince-alike Thomas Jefferson. The show certainly doesn’t shy away from the fact that historical figures rapping is fundamentally amusing.

Like an expertly sequenced mixtape, ‘Hamilton’ never settles on one tempo for too long. The introduction of the Schuyler sisters – Hamilton’s future wife Eliza (Rachelle Ann Go) and his soulmate Angelica (Rachel John) – lobs a bit of sparky, ’90s-style R&B into the mix, and cedes the bloke-tastic narrative to its female characters (briefly). And then Obioma Ugoala’s booming George Washington adds another shade entirely – a rumbling, soulful giant who rises over Hamilton and his incessant squabbling.

The second half is bleaker. After the hero’s last legislative triumph – marked by Burr’s tour de force number ‘The Room Where It Happens’, clearly the greatest song anyone will ever write about a clandestine tax deal – our hero goes into decline. The ending is soulful and sad and lower-key than you might expect. But the final question, ‘who tells your story?’, is also the exact right poser to end things on.

That’s because the great symbolic power of ‘Hamilton’ lies in its bold placement of immigrants, minorities and their culture at the very centre of the American narrative: it says, this story is ours too.

Does it feel quite so important in London? Inevitably it still feels like an American story. But we’re a nation hooked on American stories. And it is celebratory of multiculturalism and immigration, things our city knows very well. Plus, in an age when some berks still write in angrily if a black person gets a minor role in a BBC costume drama, it is of tremendous significance that a group of relatively unknown BAME actors are in a period show that is, by a really very long way, the best and cleverest thing on the London stage.

I could bore on about ‘Hamilton’ as a sociological phenomenon for days, and considered in those terms, there are faults to find, from male-centricity to US jingoism and more. But what’s great is that in the room where it happens you don’t think about any of that. Whether or not ‘Hamilton’ is the best musical of our generation – it clearly is, but whatever – it’s been a hit for the only reason anything is a hit: because it is a great work of entertainment.

The current ‘Hamilton’ booking period is sold out, but there are still ways to get tickets (more info here).

By: Andrzej Lukowski

Posted:

Venue name: Victoria Palace Theatre
Contact:
Address: Victoria Street
London
SW1E 5EA
Transport: Rail/Tube: Victoria
Event website: http://www.hamiltonthemusical.co.uk
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Average User Rating

4.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:5
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:0
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LiveReviews|7
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tastemaker

Before the show, I tried to manage expectations, considering the hype surrounding Hamilton. However, this show definitely deserves all the accolades!

It was refreshing, funny and touching. The “colour conscious” cast were mostly fantastic; jumping from show-tunes and pop, to hip-hop and soul with ease. Most of all, the production and music are genius. Go catch it!

moderator

I first saw Hamilton in New York and it was amazing! I had high expectations after seeing the original production, but I was not disappointed.  What a blend of American history and modern singing and dancing! And it works so well. 


The only difference for me was that in the New York production, the hilarious King of England played by Rory O'Mally was better attuned to what Lin-Manuel Miranda wanted: a campier, funnier version of the King; after all this is the history of their independence as told by Americans. He was beyond funny and a clear send-up of the British.  I can't help thinking that the more sober -but still funny- version of King Geroge in London, was somewhat subdued and edited for the local sensibilities. But that's just me.


All in all a top musical and great night out. Don't miss it (if you can get tickets)

Tastemaker

I’ve found that when shows are hyped up too much, they are only going to be a disappointment. Yet I still bought tickets to Hamilton when they first went on sale back in January 2017 because I’m a sucker for a bandwagon. And when I went to see it in January I was excited but fearful that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I have to say, it surpasses the hype. It is without a doubt one of, if not THE best shows I have ever had the pleasure of seeing and I'm lucky enough to have seen most of the big ones in London.


The story, the songs, the score, the choreography, the atmosphere and the costumes are all exemplary. I didn’t know the story (other than a vague idea of basic themes) or any of the songs prior to seeing the show, but by the time I left I had at least half a dozen of them in my head - they’re catchy, cleverly written, funny and moving. I downloaded the soundtrack on my journey home and haven’t stopped listening to it since. 


The acting is flawless, the singing is spine-tingling and the overall experience is one I would repeat multiple times. If you have the opportunity to get yourself tickets, I think it is the best money you could spend for a show in London at the moment. I would see it again in a heartbeat.


Side note: the Victoria Palace Theatre is a pretty fab theatre and ladies - there are about 10 cubicles in each of the toilets so those interval queues aren't as horrendous! The leg room is still minimal but that's part of the theatre experience!

tastemaker

It's fair to say that expectations were high for this and they were mostly met.  I think maybe my expectations were a little too high due to having bought the tickets about a year ago and all the hype surrounding Hamilton opening in the UK, so this was an impossibly high bar to set.


The acting and singing are brilliant and the whole ensemble is excellent - the actors playing Burr, Hamilton and Elisa particularly stood out for me.  


It is amazingly well-directed and a beautiful peace of art - the intricate staging is innovative and the use of the whole ensemble during various songs is inspired.  The songs are well-crafted and incredibly catchy.  It's engaging and modern music, which I can see it bringing a new audience to theatre.


I guess why it isn't quite 5 star for me was that I found the story a little dull at times and if wasn't for the staging, music etc, I'm not sure this really a story that excites me - I know that will be a controversial thing to say...


A definite must watch - just go in with a more open mind than me!

tastemaker

Absolutely amazing. Completely and utterly worth the hype. Jamael Westman who plays Hamilton is totally mesmerising. The music is unforgettable, lyrics are pure genius and the staging is artistic whilst remaining accessible. Pure joy.

tastemaker

Time for a Musical Revolution, this time it's american not french :) 

There hasn't been many musicals with this much hype, the london cast not only rise up to the task they SMASH IT!

Excellent and clever writing mixed with intricate choreography all pulled together with a beautiful score this show is not one to miss.

You'll go from history class to rap battles, laughs to tears. I'm already on the hunt for my second trip.


Don't forget their daily lottery to get tickets for £10.



It was amazing. The whole cast was amazing! Rachelle Ann Go and Rachel John both made me grin with every song they sang.