Review of 'Hamilton'

hamilton.jpg http://hamiltonmusical.com/london/

After the incredible reviews for the musical coming out of New York I was anxious to get my hands on tickets for Hamilton when it came to London. I was one of the lucky few that has had my wish granted.

Hamilton is the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. A colourful character whose energy and outspokenness made him many enemies eventually leading to his death in a duel. After an exposition of Hamilton's life as an orphan in the Caribbean the musical picks up his life during the American Revolution in 1776. In New York Hamilton seeks out politician Aaron Burr and makes friends with three fellow revolutionaries: Abolitionist John Laurens, flamboyant Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette and tailor's apprentice Hercules Mulligan who he amazes with his rhetorical skills (Burr advised him to “talk less, smile more”). General George Washington of the Continental Army enlists Hamilton to not, as he wants, to fight on the front lines but to instead become his aide. Now with the help of the French in the war the Continental Army strike a decisive blow to the British at Yorktown. Following the war Hamilton plays an active role in writing the constitution but gets involved with scandal that threatens his political career.

Sounds pretty dry doesn't it? Yeah, that's what it sounds like but this musical is anything but. The energy of the cast is evident from the moment the musical begins. All songs are rap or high-energy rock which gives the musical a sense of relevance that it might otherwise lack. The performers are all in period costumes but what comes out of their mouths is anything but period. The music is fresh and vibrant as it drives relentlessly on. There is a lot of it here too with only a minimal amount of repetition and then only to repeat certain common themes: “One Shot” (making the most of your time) and “The Room Where it Happens” (decisions being made behind locked doors). There are a lot of lyrics here though with the works coming thick and extremely fast, perhaps echoing the man himself who was so prolific and talented as a wordsmith. This does mean you have to listen very carefully if you want to follow everything that is going on…though thankfully this is made much easier with the lyrics taking centre state as they are enunciated very clearly by the cast and not drowned out by the live orchestra. Having said that there is so much here that you will doubtless miss large portions of it.

The staging is simple with a single catwalk running along the side and back walls of the stage leaving plenty of open area for the performers to run around and dance on. A revolving stage provides more movement to characters as they walk and run their way through the story.

The performers were incredible. Jamel Westman as Hamilton is incredible - Intense, powerful and moving with a clear and rich voice. Aaron Burr (Giles Terera) provides some narration for the piece coming on at several points to talk directly with the audience providing perspective to the events unfolding on the stage. Despite his slight speech impediment Terera provides stability against the maniacal character of Hamilton and has a tremendous voice to beat with an amazing vocal range. Obioma Ugolala as George Washington is another island of calm amidst the wild Hamilton providing a suitably deep and rich voice.

Throughout the show there is a sense of fun but only a few laugh-out-loud moments mostly around the character of King George (played by Michael Jibson) whose blatant and exaggerated character is here a subject of ridicule and hilarity (“I will send my ships to kill you as a token of my love” sort of thing). This is a much needed lightener to an otherwise heavy subject matter. Hamilton, I think it is fair to say, was not necessarily a man to love but he is certainly one to admire.

At 2 hours and 45 minutes including a 15 minute interval this is a long show particularly considering the libretto which must be a reasonably hefty novel. The impact of Hamilton reminds me of the effect that Jesus Christ Superstar must have had when it appeared out of the blue on the stage - A dramatic departure from what came before with a voice of contemporary society. In this way Hamilton is something completely different and brings new life, perhaps a new audience, to musical theatre.

Stunning. Amazing.


The ticketing system for Hamilton is quite innovative and may confuse many. In order to avoid ticket scalping (touts) tickets are not issued when you purchase them rather you are issued printed tickets at the door when you present the credit card used during booking. No tickets are issued in advance. This does mean getting into the theatre can take extra time so it is advised to arrive early (the theatre is quite nice so enjoy it!).

Rating:

Review Date: 2018-01-24



Victoria Palace Theatre

Location: London (England)

Address: 126 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5EA ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE NRLOGO Victoria Station

Telephone: +44 (0) 844 482 5138

URL: http://www.victoriapalacetheatre.co.uk/

Originally opened in 1910 the Victoria Palace was closed in 2016 for extensive restoration including work to the stage and extensive work on the interior. Amazing interiors and spacious (for a theatre), opulent “grand salon” foyers at every level which are not just bars but have a good number of seats. Magnificent mahogany and light oak wood features throughout with an emphasis on creams, golds, and greens.

Acoustically, the sound is amazing even on the “Grand Circle” (Upper Circle) level. Be aware of these names for the different levels: “Royal Circle” is the first balcony and “Grand Circle” (despite the fancy name) is the second at a very steep rake (not recommended for those with vertigo). Seats there are also very crowded together with very little legroom.