Well, fans in the UK were past patiently waitin’, and finally London has got the musical phenomenon of the 21st Century. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece, Hamilton, based on one of the founding fathers of America, has arrived at the newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre. But does it live up to the hype? The months of waiting? The £200 tickets? The sold-out run? Of course it does.
The show, lovingly adapted from Ron Chernow’s biography, follows the life of Alexander Hamilton – a penniless orphan and American immigrant who rises through the ranks to become the first Treasury Secretary. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is all about politics. The musical focuses on his journey, his relationships, and most importantly his difficult friendship with fellow politician Aaron Burr.
Forgive the pun, but it’s clear that Lin-Manuel’s skill with a quill is undeniable. Much like Hamilton himself, he has crafted the music and lyrics in this piece to with an inch of their lives – clever enough to make you sit back and watch the show in wonder but well spaced and carefully placed to ensure newcomers can keep up. When reliving a trip to this show it is near to impossible to pick just one favourite. The range of musical styles, from rap to jazz, detail perfectly what could be for most a dull story stuffed with political to-ing and fro-ing.
The genius in the piece lies in the overall staging and Thomas Kail’s direction. The set, costumes and lighting are all relatively simple but you soon realise they work hard to compliment where your focus should really be – on the music, the performers and what they are doing on the stage. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is fresh and constant and the performances are blinding. This musical is all about the art, and that’s what leaves you in awe.
If your focus is on the performers then the pressure’s on to find the best the UK can offer, and well, they sure found it. Aaron Burr is played by one of the finest actors the West End can offer, Giles Terera. His emotional response to a testing relationship with Hamilton is nothing less than award-winning. He has some gorgeous, quiet moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up yet can belt out some of the finest tunes in the show with ease while moving you through the plot and ultimately making you feel for the villain.
Opposite him, Jamael Westman, in his West End debut as Hamilton, does well but has a little way to go. He has a gorgeous voice and gives a fine performance, yet to me he doesn’t quite have Hamilton’s character sewn up yet. He plays him throughout as he should be in act two, and needs to grow on his ‘scrappy’ side at the start. I imagine Hamilton as almost annoying in his early days and to me I only saw this in odd bursts.
Rachelle Ann Go is a popular Eliza Hamilton and certainly has a sweet voice, although doesn’t seem to demonstrate the same grit during the character’s low points as she did in Miss Saigon. Rachel Johns is outstanding as Angelica Schuyler, really provoking the audience to feel for her dilemma with Hamilton.
You are spoilt for choice in the supporting roles, however Michael Jibson stands out for me. It takes some skill to be a favourite with mere amounts of stage time, but he swaggers on for each song and leaves the crowd in pieces with his hilarious portrayal of King George. Obioma Ugoala gives a particularly emotionally charged performance as George Washington and really demonstrates the gravitas needed for the role.
Jason Pennycooke is lively and fun as Lafayette and Jefferson, and his cabinet battles alongside Tarinn Callender (Mulligan/Madison) are simply riotous. Cleve September (John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton) gives a shining and sweet performance and Christine Allado transforms from the innocent Peggy to the sultry Maria Reynolds with great skill.
There may be the odd element of the show not to your liking. Maybe politics isn’t your bag or contemporary dance doesn’t do it for you. But the beauty in this show is how it comes together as an artform. It is a game changer. What Lin and his team have put together is nothing short of mastery. The mix of modern skill and music with a classic story translates to current audiences like nothing else. It’s bold, brilliant and simply beautiful.
I can guarantee that you’ll be back.
Tickets are available only through Ticketmaster and come with strict terms and conditions. Don’t get caught out! Buy them online here.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy