The hype surrounding Hamilton: An American Musical has been enormous since Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit show opened on Broadway in 2015. Since then there has been a libretto, eleven Tony awards, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a cast album AND a mix-tape of the cast album. This show is certainly a huge landmark in the theatre world – even my grandma text me her excitement when I went to see the show.
Hamilton on stage is completely overwhelming – in a good way. Having listened to the cast album religiously for about 18 months before I went to see the show, I had high expectations. The experience of the actual performance was completely different to what I had expected. I was blown away by the choreography, the lighting, the costumes, the cast, the direction (basically everything), and how the whole production came together in front of the audience. The way the whole performance flows together is utterly graceful and incredibly precise.
The musical has book, music, and lyrics, by Lin-Manuel Miranda who also originated the role of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. The production begins with an overview of Hamilton’s upbringing and his journey to the American colonies, the show progresses through the American Revolution and the American Revolutionary War with Great Britain, under the rule of George III. The audience follows the trials and tribulations of Hamilton’s life, including his influence on American government and his contribution to its existence, his personal relationships including his marriage to Eliza Schuyler and his affair with married woman Maria Reynolds – the first public sex scandal in American history, and ultimately Hamilton’s death in 1804. The story is told primarily through the eyes of rival politician Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s friend turned foe. Hamilton features a variety of genres of music, including rap and hip-hop, whilst also standing out with its colour-conscious casting of different ethnicities to play the Founding Fathers.
Whilst a musical about American eighteenth-century politics may be unappealing to some, the actual content of the show is pure gold. With some embellishments to the historical context, Hamilton offers a complete modern approach to history. As my incredible friend Talk Stagey to Me has noted in her review, fears of the musical not translating to a British audience were not unheard of, but her relation of the political upheaval and how it is not incomparable to the British political situation of today – namely Brexit – provides a great insight to how successful the show is across the pond.
Hamilton exhibits some of the greatest talent on the West End today. With newbie Jamael Westman freshly graduated from RADA taking on the titular role, Hamilton is just full of surprises. Westman is completely comfortable in the role and he stands apart from Miranda, making the role his own and not attempting to mimic the creator. His adversary Aaron Burr is played by Giles Terera who is sure-footed and level headed throughout, his ‘The Room Where It Happens’ completely took my breath away. Jason Pennycooke is Hamilton’s friend Lafayette and nemesis Thomas Jefferson. Pennycooke is one part of the comedy relief in the show, always bringing a smile with his outrageous approach to the characters. Michael Jibson is a hilarious King George III, a character which may be amiss in a London show; his petulant take on the rocky monarch is simply fantastic. Vocally, the stand out for me is Rachel John playing sister-in-law to Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler. John has one of the clearest and richest voices on the West End, she creates a depth whenever she appears on stage. Rachelle Ann Go and Christine Allado play sisters Eliza and Peggy Schuyler respectively, with Allado also playing seductress Maria Reynolds.
Not only is this show remarkable in its book, music, and lyrics, the clever direction from Thomas Kail and slick choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler leaves this show unparalleled to any other. Whilst clearly demonstrating life in the 1700s through its costumes and design, Hamilton is brought into the 21st century through its witty intentions. The incisive and wonderful lyrics alongside the production quality will leave and indelible mark on theatre history.