With a set that towers in equal amounts of splendour and simplicity, dancers that double as smooth moving stagehands and a cast that would rival the Tony winners that originally graced the Richard Rogers stage years ago, Hamilton was everything I expected it to be and more. I wish I could have come away with some insightful criticism (it might have made for a slightly more interesting post than just me bowing down in excitement and disbelief), but, truthfully, it was absolutely as magical as was promised. There was a lot riding on the West End to make Hamilton every bit as successful on English turf as it was on US soil. With a story that, on the surface, is so intrinsically American in every way, it might have been understandable if Brits were less interested in the founding fathers than Broadway-goers, but it seems as though Hamilton is going to be absolutely fine over here. It looks right at home next to every classic that has graced the West End Stage, raking in reviews from critics who seem to only speak in overwhelming superlatives.
Choreographed with a slickness everyone else can only dream of, the ensemble are entirely bewitching, hypnotising the audience with dreamlike movement of upside down furniture and seventeenth century weaponry. For “an American musical” that is supposed to be both for and told by the people, this fits perfectly. The ensemble is a necessary vehicle for the plot, literally moving the stage and the actors to and from battlefields and wedding nights in moments, with scarcely any physical set changes taking place. Of course, they are aided by the sensationally simplistic set design- with a double rotating stage element, involving two concentric circles that spin and halt independently of each other, and stairs that swing across the stage for maximum imposition from George Washington.
The Broadway recording of Hamilton has completely infiltrated me from my brain to my veins, after however many years of listening to it over and over, so I was naturally unsure of how the new London cast would compare. What was special was that the music was exactly what I wanted it to be, but infused with the refreshing individual personalities of the London cast. There had clearly no fear of or shying away from individuality, while still staying fiercely true to the score. Angelica was slightly softer than I had been used to, which brought a new dimension, as a new actor should, to the role. Eliza was heartbreaking and the reams toilet paper I hastily stuffed in my pockets prior to the performance were just as useful (and necessary) as I knew they’d be. Giles Terrera’s Burr had a slightly slimier element to him than Leslie Odom Jr.’s, his shorter frame next to Hamilton’s towering figure giving their relationship more of a man swatting fly vibe.
Seeing the show with a theatre layman also gave new light to the whole show. I was slightly nervous telling him that, yes, there are not really any “talking bits”, and because I wanted him to share my feelings so badly I did feel a bit anxious as Act 1 neared the 90-minute mark without an interval (and still no talking bits). A week later and more than once I’ve caught him mumbling around the kitchen, almost in tune, that he wants to be in the room where it happens. Despite almost making him faint by spending 30 quid on a t-shirt, he is living proof of how Hamilton can and will touch anyone and everyone- it’s impossible not to love! The beating, tumbling, elastic music and lyrics are at the bursting core of the show, the hip hop genre perfectly suitable for the revolutionary story you see unfolding, and just as catchy as it is genius.
To see Hamilton honestly is to see the future of the West End. Lin Manuel-Miranda has surely revolutionized musical theatre with this show– I challenge anyone to sit in the Victoria Palace and witness the ups and downs on the stage before them and not feel as though they are witnessing something entirely new and amazing. The show itself is as explosive as the story it tells and Lin Manuel-Miranda has got to be one of the greatest writers our generation has seen. He is our Andrew Lloyd Webber, a household name to come if he is not one already, and his complete rejection of musical tradition has given him an instant and everlasting classic.