Hamilton dazzles London with West End debut
The show has a score that blends hip hop, rap, jazz, blues and classic show tunes.
Hip hop musical Hamilton has finally made its way across the ocean for an electrifying London debut.
The most anticipated show of the year in the capital, it has already bagged 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize in the US.
Based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, described as “the ten-dollar founding father without a father” (because he appears on the 10-dollar bill), the show has already changed the game on Broadway and been met with thunderous ovations.
As the curtain finally lifted on the show’s first British cast, it was clear why.
It is a revolutionary musical about a revolutionary, with a chart-topping score that blends hip hop, rap, jazz, blues and classic show tunes.
There are as many references to the music of Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim as there are to Mobb Deep and Busta Rhymes.
The show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, penned the music and lyrics after reading a biography of the founding father and originated the role of Hamilton on Broadway.
On opening night he sat proudly in the Victoria Palace Theatre to watch RADA-trained Jamael Westman take over the reins for the show’s international debut.
It is unlikely too many members of the packed house knew the story of America’s first Treasury Secretary before they came across the show.
With its sung-through score, it tells of the rise of the West Indies immigrant who went on to be George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War, as well as his rivalry with Aaron Burr (Giles Terera), who acts as narrator for much of the action.
As in US productions, diverse actors bring the white historical figures out of the history books and alive on stage.
It is that diversity that the Broadway cast advocated for when Vice President Mike Pence visited the show in November 2016.
After the show one actor read a letter to Mr Pence, describing the ensemble as “the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us”.
In London, Miranda had been concerned that his portrayal of King George III as a preening, vengeful, malevolent monarch, played for laughs with great aplomb by Michael Jibson, might not go down too well in a theatre minutes from Buckingham Palace.
But he need not have feared as the audience roared with delight at lines such as “I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”
There is a lot of dual casting in the show, with Tarinn Callender lending bombastic ebullience to Hercules Mulligan and quieter pomposity to James Madison, and Jason Pennycooke switching from the French rapping of the Marquis de Lafayette to the high-kicking preening of Thomas Jefferson.
Cleve September, a graduate of the Brit School, takes on the dual roles of Hamilton’s confidante John Laurens, and then beloved son, Philip.
And Miranda has given not just a voice but some of the best-loved songs in the show to the women so often edited out of history books.
As Angelica Schuyler (Rachel John) raps: “You want a revolution? I want a revelation, so listen to my declaration:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
“And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!”.
It is a cold-hearted audience member not left devastated by her number Satisfied, or the performance by Rachelle Ann Go as Hamilton’s wife Eliza.
As the opening number says, Hamilton “was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter”.
If you want tickets, do the same.