‘Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?’ Unless you’ve been in hibernation for two years, you’ll probably already know the answers to these questions, but that doesn’t stop Hamilton from being one of the fastest sell-out musicals in UK history. With tickets being reportedly re-sold for thousands, is it worth it? Oh yes, you’ll certainly want to be in the ‘room where it happens’.
The ‘room’ in question is in fact the beautifully refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre which plays host to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s multi-award winning contemporary masterpiece. Through 46 gloriously varied, heart-wrenching and punchy songs, Miranda ingeniously retells the story of Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers through the lens of current day America. The historically white founding fathers are played by a mix of ethnicities, plus, with Hamilton’s own background, the theme of the value of immigration runs in the veins of the musical throughout. One of the loudest reactions of the evening is to the line, ‘immigrants, we get the job done’. No wonder Donald Trump has assigned it to the same ‘overrated’ bracket as actress Meryl Streep.
Any notions of ‘Hamilton’ being overrated are quickly squashed in Thomas Kail’s impressive production. As the lights dim, the excitement in the air is tangible as the cast kick off with the mesmerising first song, ‘Alexander Hamilton’. Miranda’s music is fantastically quirky, modern and unique. There are genius echoes of past or future moments and motifs in other songs throughout. There is a perfect balance of heart-rendering ballads, powerful hip-hop and RnB, catchy historical raps, plus some of the cleverest lyrics since Tim Rice.
I would definitely contemplate some kind of duel to see it again
David Korin’s simple, versatile set represents a variety of settings from the battlefield to the bedroom. The transitions are seamlessly achieved by the remarkable lighting design of Howell Binkley. The choreography in this performance is eye-catching, creative and pretty much constant throughout the show. And now to the cast, and what a cast…As well as ethnic diversity, Miranda has mirrored his New York casting in combining a mix of musical theatre veterans and newcomers. Jamael Westman is fresh from RADA and is a confident lead man surrounded by an talented posse of founding fathers: Jason Pennycooke dazzles in the dual roles of Jefferson and Lafayette – the former camp and ambitious and the latter a dynamo of French rap; Tarinn Callender bounces onto the stage as rap king Mulligan and later transforms into Madison; Cleve September nails the contrasting roles of charismatic Laurens and adds real poignancy to Hamilton’s unfortunate son; and Obioma Ugoala plays Hamilton’s mentor Washington with gravity and warmth and creating a soulful reflection in ‘One Last Time’. Finally, Giles Terera was outstanding in his role of Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s former friend and nemesis, whenever he was on stage you could not take your eyes off him.
The female posse of the Schuyler sisters also dazzle: Christine Allado infuses comedy into her overlooked Peggy then morphs into Hamilton’s Achilles’ heel Maria Reynolds; Rachel John’s powerful voice perfectly captures the spirit of Angelica’s songs; but Rachelle Ann Go’s Eliza is probably the star of the evening. Go’s stunning voice can easily cope with the range of emotions in her ballads and her on stage energy is infectious. Her final scenes are heartbreaking. However, last but not least, is Michael Gibson’s fabulous King George who extracts every nuance of comedy out of “You’ll Be Back”. He’s only on stage for a few minutes but he certainly makes them count.
To sum up, it really is a phenomenon: witty, moving and powerful. It is one of the best things I have seen in my 19 years of nerdy-theatre-going, and I would definitely contemplate some kind of duel to see it again. I envy anyone lucky enough to be seeing it in the next few months.
Image: Matthew Murphy