Ever since Hamilton burst on to the New York theatre scene in 2015, with such universal praise and adoration, I have been intrigued. After ticket lottery failures when I’ve been in NYC and the rising Broadway ticket prices, I decided to wait for the London transfer to see the show for myself. So, before Thursday night, two weeks ago, I had not heard a single second of its soundtrack and I knew only the very basic historical facts. You couldn’t be more of a newcomer to this musical than I was.
The big questions people are now asking me: Could anything live up to the level of hype that Hamilton has (remember it has already won 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize)? Would I want to go and see it again?
By the time I emerged from the Victoria Palace Theatre later on that Thursday night, the answer to both questions was a resounding YES!! In fact, I was so desperate to go again sooner than April (when I have my next ticket booked), that I bought a single ticket for the following Saturday’s first matinee to relive it all again! And now, on the eve of press night I’ve seen it four times (yes, I may have a slight problem….)!
Seeing four previews, also means that I have been lucky to already see both Alexander Hamiltons twice (Jamael Westman and Ash Hunter, including Hunter’s first two performances), so I can give my thoughts on both interpretations, which have formed more, the more I have seen the show.
So, for the uninitiated like me, inspired by the biography by Ron Chernow, Hamilton tells the lesser known story of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean, who arrived in New York and went on to become one of the most vital individuals in the shaping of the foundation of the U.S.A; from his determination to help secure freedom from the British, to his defence of the new Constitution, to his creation of a financial system for a new nation as its first Treasury Secretary. It’s the story of a man who strived to achieve so much and has been, to a certain extent, overlooked by history.
Until now, that is! In fact, one of the finest achievements of Hamilton is that it is informing thousands of audience members about a period of history they may know little about, especially if they aren’t American. It’s the best history lesson you’ll ever have!
Why is it so incredible? Hamilton executes every element of the show to perfection. You may be thinking that the style of music isn’t for you, but you’ll likely by thrillingly surprised. It’s genuinely impossible to choose a favourite song, as the show moves so smoothly from one to the next that it’s hard to separate them. Each one adds to both the progress of the story and the emotional depth of the show. Very few musicals manage this, which is why very few truly capture my imagination. In this case, I left the theatre and immediately downloaded the soundtrack to listen to it all over again and to marvel at the intelligence, wit, passion and power of Lin Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics. Heck, I now know a good few of them off by heart.
As an ensemble, the Hamilton London company is also one of the slickest, most cohesive units I’ve ever seen on stage and that was even from their 2nd performance and two weeks later, they are even stronger! It’s as though they have been playing these roles together for years, which is a testament to their abilities!
The style of the music of Hamilton, which blends hip-hop, rap, RnB and more traditional-style musical numbers, dictates that the pace of the show is incredibly fast and yet, there is not a moment where the actors, detailed choreography, lighting or sound effects falter; all coming together under director Thomas Kail to bring to life so vividly what is the strongest production on any stage at the moment.
What is it that makes stories about revolutions so compelling to watch as musicals I wonder?! My all-time favourite has always been Les Miserables and Hamilton is the only one to rival it, in terms of its sheer power and emotional range it presents on the stage. Certain numbers gave me the same chill of excitement as Les Mis and that was a huge surprise for me. It’s a truly thrilling, exhilarating, exciting, emotional and uplifting experience, that very few shows will ever match. I honestly never expected it to, so decisively, exceed my expectations.
As the cast are all so strong, it’s difficult to pick out individual performances and each audience member will have their favourites. I loved the character of Angelica, who was the first one to bring a lump to my throat during “Satisfied”; a song which reveals something about her that I hadn’t expected. Rachel John is both a superb vocalist (having already impressed me in The Bodyguard) and actress in the role and really stands out in this show. Giles Terera’s charismatic portrayal of, as he says himself, the villain of the story, Aaron Burr, is also very good indeed, with “The Room Where It Happens” being some of my favourite moments in the production. His Burr feels much older than Hamilton and his friends and Terera brilliantly plays his growing frustration on the trajectory of his own life. Much like the best characters, he isn’t simply a villain, but a man who ultimately makes a tragic mistake.
Obioma Ugoala’s George Washington is a strong and likeable commander, who also commands the stage whenever he is at it centre, while Jason Pennycooke brings the humour and wit of Lafayette and then Thomas Jefferson to life. Although I preferred Angelica as a character to Eliza, who is far less interesting, I did find “It’s Quiet Uptown” between Hamilton and Rachelle Ann Go’s Eliza very moving, capturing two people dealing with loss in such a poignant way. Then of course there is the small, but hugely memorable role of King George, here played sublimely by Michael Jibson, who received huge applause from the audience after each brilliant appearance and is one of the highlights of the show.
As for the lead role, having already seen both actors who will be taking on that responsibility in London twice, the good news is that whether you see Jamael Westman or Ash Hunter, you will see a first-class performance. They both bring their personalities and little personal touches to the character, but are equally strong. Westman’s Hamilton is perhaps the grittier, cockier, big brother, when compared to Hunter’s younger Hamilton. He also perhaps more charismatic and has already settled down in to the role with confidence since I saw him two weeks ago. Ash Hunter however perhaps elicited a more emotional response from me; his Hamilton coming across as less arrogant and a little gentler. What really matters though, is that they are both already strong, confident and overflowing with enthusiasm, which shines on the stage.
So, to sum it up. At 7:29 p.m. on Thursday 7th December, I was a Hamilton newcomer, sceptical about the hype and fully prepared not to see the magic that seemingly captured every audience member who experiences it. Two weeks, four performances and multiple listens to the soundtrack later, I’m a fully paid up member of the revolution! My next pre-booked ticket for the show isn’t until April but, just like Aaron Burr, I want to be in the room where it happens far sooner than that!
Do anything you can to see this show. The ticket prices in London are nowhere near as steep as New York and the impressively tight ticket arrangement will hopefully limit the success of any extortionate secondary market. I’ll be writing a further post with information and tips for those either coming to London for the show, or for those looking for tickets, but my main message – Buy a ticket now and if you can, book two performances in one go, as you’ll undoubtably want to go back!
Welcome to London, Hamilton! Now that we have you and Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, we officially have the two happiest theatres in the world in this incredible city! If you do decide to come and are looking for tips for your visit, or are looking for tips getting tickets, I have also written a separate post that I hope will prove useful: Tips for First Time Visitors to the Victoria Palace Theatre for Hamilton
Hamilton continues its run at the Victoria Palace Theatre, with press night tomorrow (on 21st December 2017). There is limited availability until June 2018, with the next block of tickets to go on sale soon. For more information, visit the website here: http://www.hamiltonthemusical.co.uk