Hamilton — West End Review

I went to see Hamilton this week and it is simply, the best show I have ever seen.

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Let me break it down for you. This is one of the most in-demand shows in London, in the world in fact. Its hype precedes it: the list of accolades Hamilton has received is huge, it cleans up at award ceremonies and it has an astonishing number of 5-star reviews. And everything you have heard about this show is completely true — it is incredible.

If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?

The inspiring story of Alexander Hamilton is one that history largely forgot until Lin-Manuel Miranda brought this musical to the world. And what a way to bring history to life. Creating a hip-hop musical that is lyrically, so clever, so witty, and so historically accurate is an incredible achievement. Coupled with the terrific staging and choreography, and led by the enchanting Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton (pictured above), this musical is sublime.

1IGIJZ4r_400x400Every cast member is as strong as the next; there were simply no weak links. Westman’s portrayal of Hamilton, whether it be statesman or playboy, was captivating and charming, pulsing with emotion from the very sad (‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ and ‘Hurricane’) to the raging anger brought on by war (“Call me son one more time!”). I was especially enamoured by Jason Pennycooke as Lafayette/Jefferson, Rachel John as Angelica (her voice!), and Michael Jibson as the wonderfully camp King George III. The supporting cast are just as mesmerising, dancing their way around the revolving stage to inspired choreography (Angelica’s rewind sequence for ‘Satisfied’ is terrific!).

Miranda’s Easter eggs all over the place made me chuckle, particularly the samples of Notorious B.I.G. and Grandmaster Flash. The songs made me laugh (“We’re so reliable with the ladies!”) and sob (‘Burn’, absolutely heartbreaking); ‘Right Hand Man’ and ‘Wait For It’, could be in the charts today. It’s songwriting mastery from Miranda.

You married an Icarus, he’s flown too close to the sun

As we follow Hamilton through his life he becomes more and more fascinating. His commitment and enthusiasm to his cause, the way he deals with problems, and his ability to write like there’s no tomorrow is so inspiring. (I’ve ordered Ron Chernow’s book, Hamilton, to learn more about this forgotten Founding Father.)

The music translates what could be a turgid political history lesson into a compelling and contemporary story. So often, historical theatre/film/tv doesn’t relate to the current time period or explain how history has impacted today’s world, and as such can become very dull but this completely avoids that. Using modern dance, language, and a mixed race cast makes this so much more accessible. There’s no wonder it’s being used to teach civic history to American kids. Despite this being an American story the parallels to Britain were tremendous. Brexit loomed over the play, we’re a country trying to find its feet after all and the depiction of the monarchy were poignant; as Hamilton and Lafayette cried: “Immigrants, we get the job done!” one of the biggest applause of the night rang throughout the audience.

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Hamilton celebrates the origin of America and the gritty reality of the American Dream. This makes the point of casting men and women of colour in the roles even more poignant. The references to slavery, equal rights and the role of immigrants are prominent. As a light is shone on a forgotten figure, what is also highlighted is the collective forgetting of anything other than ‘white’ history. As a history graduate, I can attest to this Imperialistic hangover. As King George sings, “Oceans rise, Empires fall…” it is only a matter of time before the tides turn and our history education broadens. Perhaps Hamilton is the start of it.

Since I saw this musical I have listened to the soundtrack non-stop and have told everyone who will listen how good it is. I can’t wait to watch it again. It is a staggeringly ambitious musical which is pulled off in the most spectacular fashion.

Try and get tickets (if you can) from here: hamiltonmusical.com

Images: Matthew Murphy

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