Reviewing Hamilton (West End)

Rise Up!

Every so often, there comes a musical whose popularity, originality and style sets it apart and it defines a decade as well as transcending its own time. Think the grand epics of Les Mis and Phantom in the 1980s, the gritty, bohemian hit Rent in the 1990s, or the green and yellow dazzle and wit of Wicked in the 00’s.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical was created in a perfect storm.  It was written during a progressive, enlightened time in US politics but soon after Hamiltons rise to fame, this story of America’s founding fathers feels like a rebuke to America’s current political turmoil.  Not only does it seamlessly combines hip hop with more traditional musical styles but it tells a historic drama but with color-blind casting. This is today’s America telling the story of the birth of their nation.  Unlike most of the classics previously mentioned, the staging here is minimal with just a balcony and two rotating circles in the floor.  The drama, then, is left to the characters to tell, and boy, do they tell it!

There was an incredible buzz for my wife and I being in the audience so near the beginning of the West End run and on Alexander Hamilton’s birthday no less (he would have been 263, in case you’re wondering).  Fans either booked a long ways in advance or paid high prices to be able to see this show so tickets were not bought on a whim.  In fact, we had the distinct feeling that the vast majority of the audience knew the songs and the lyrics already.  As the house lights dimmed, the first immense cheer went up from the crowd. Seeing the songs being played out in front of our eyes was a joyous occasion, the soundtrack having prepared and whetted our appetite.  There was an almighty cheer after the line “Immigrants (We get the job done)!” – Well done, London!

The hits came thick and fast.  The energy of My Shot was incredible.  The Schuyler Sisters kept the excitement levels at max.  You’ll Be Back changed the tone to joyous comedy before the heart-wrenching emotion of Satisfied.  The first half was relentless and absorbing as Hamilton fought alongside Washington in the War of Independence, and ended aptly with the song Non-Stop.

The second half continued to tell the life of Alexander Hamilton, but at this stage

his story becomes more personal and political.  The energy is more sporadic but the telling no less engrossing with comedy and tragedy each taking their turns and including some clever character swaps for the actors.  The finale is beautifully poignant and thought provoking, leaving a positive after-taste.

So would I recommend seeing it?  Emphatically yes!!  Book when you can, or if you’re feeling lucky, there is a daily lottery for tickets which would costs the winners £20 each.  Finally, I want to mention some of the players before the Broadway soundtrack colors my memory of the experience:

  • Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton is relatively inexperienced in the West End but took his shot with both hands giving a young, scrappy and hungry performance.  Hamilton would be proud!
  • Giles Terera as Aaron Burr had probably the hardest job in the musical keeping all his lines in order as every narrative introduction starts with the exact same music, but he delivered with brilliant consistency.
  • Rachel John as Angelica Hamilton had a superb voice and was mesmerising in Satisfied.
  • Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza Hamilton gave a brilliant, emotional performance.
  • Jason Pennycooke as Maquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson had the charisma to carry off two larger-than-life characters and add his own nuances to the performance.
  • Michael Jibson as King George had the swagger and stage craft to carry this royal, comedic part.
  • Obioma Ugolala as George Washington had a lovely bass tone to his voice and gave an assured performance as the Father of America.

The cast were exceptional throughout and the ensemble had as much to do as the principles and did it brilliantly.