Hamilton (Victoria Palace)

Posted: February 17, 2018 in Theatre

Book, music and lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda      Director: Thomas Kail

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hype raises expectations and high expectations frequently result in disappointment. For example, I saw Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman with no expectations on press night at the Royal Court, recommended it to everyone I spoke to when it transferred to the West End and have invariably received the reaction “it wasn’t THAT good”. Hamilton is the most hyped show of the modern era, garlanded with accolades and awards, and, having failed to get tickets on two visits to New York, I am finally crossing paths with it a couple of months into a London run that was greeted with almost unanimous five star reviews. So, can it possibly be THAT good?

I try hard not to be one of those irritating people who knocks anything successful just for the sake of being different, so let me start by emphasising that this is a rock solid five star show, brilliant in concept and execution, informative and hilariously funny. By thinking outside the box, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken the art of musical theatre to another level and there was not a second of it’s 165 minutes that I was not enthralled by his show. It was only when leaving the theatre, as a friend said to me “that is a musical for today”, that I began asking questions. Yes, being a musical for today is a big positive, but will it be a musical for tomorrow? Could suggestions that the Victoria Palace (spectacularly renovated at a cost of around £60million) may never have to look for another show be a little premature?

Alexander Hamilton (c1755-1804) was born out of wedlock on the Caribbean island of Nevis, emigrated to the United States as a young man, became a senior officer fighting for American Independence, was appointed Treasury Secretary in George Washington’s first administration and played a key role in establishing the US Constitution and financial systems. The show’s running theme is that it is throwing light on a prominent figure that history tends to overlook and the pleas by his wife Eliza (Rachelle Ann Go) to put right that wrong are stirring. However, when elements in the show remind us of  Les Miserables, they also expose the fact that Hamilton, a flawed, fallible politician and bureaucrat, is not an iconic hero as was Jean Valjean. Thus, the show’s emotional hook is much weaker and, as a result, I am left wondering how quickly it will fade from the memory.

There are many reasons why I wish that I had seen Miranda’s own performance as Hamilton, among them now being that it would have helped me to make up my mind about the performance of the much younger Jamael Westman in the role. There is no doubt that he is technically excellent, but does he have the maturity and charisma to be fully convincing as the character ages? I have niggling doubts, particularly in scenes when he is onstage alongside Giles Terera, brilliant as Hamilton’s some time rival, some time ally, Aaron Burr. Obioma Ugoala is a commanding Washington, Jason Pennycooke a childlike Thomas Jefferson and, singing the tune that I cannot get out of my head, Michael Jibson’s King George III is bonkers (as indeed was the case).

Finally, a mention for Miranda’s use of rap, a word that I had previously thought needed to be preceded by the letter “c”. Miranda integrated hip-hop into his Tony award winning show In The Heights, which I loved and which was a long running hit on the London fringe, so its reappearance here was not entirely unexpected. However, in the event, it proves to be a revelation. Using rapping as a tool for storytelling, the awkward transitions between spoken word and song that blight many musicals are gone and the pace, rhythm and energy of Thomas Kail’s production never falter. An added bonus is that the cheekiness that comes naturally to rap gives licence for the show to be both respectful to American history and completely irreverent at one and the same time. Hamilton is one helluva ride, but will we still love it tomorrow? Only time can tell.

Performance date: 14 February 2018

Photo:Matthew Murphy

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