Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton
Two and a half years since its debut on Broadway, Lin Manuel Miranda’s sensational musical Hamilton after some delays made its West End debut at the newly refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre last month in December. The half-sung, half rapped show about the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States: Alexander Hamilton (Jamael Westman in a revelatory musical debut), has often been touted as an impossible show to see in New York. Due to the constant sell-out performances and the high price demand of tickets that go on sale. The stamina, chemistry of the cast and high energy musical choreography amidst an intricately brick layered and pre-dominantly wooden stage design by production designer David Korins has contributed to the show’s continued success since 2015. It is a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word and that’s not a bad thing, however during the first act of the musical, the production by original Broadway director Thomas Kail at times does seem far too busy for its own good with regards to ensuring exuberance for its audience.
While also trying to balance introducing the key players, establishing the tone and central relationships of the story: Hamilton’s friendship turned rivalry with Aaron Burr (Giles Terera in top form) and his marriage to Eliza Schuyler (Rachelle Ann Go) of the wealthy Schuyler Sisters who get their own self-titled female-empowerment number early on in Act One. A great majority of Act One is centered around the American Revolution of 1776 in which the forces of General George Washington (Obioma Ugoala) take on the forces of King George III, who provides a bit of comic relief in his three scene cameo courtesy of Michael Jibson. It becomes hard to form an attachment to the characters initially because of the brisk pace, thankfully the musical regains a sense of focus and momentum. Once Act Two shifts to the politics of Congress, the growing tensions between Thomas Jefferson and Hamilton, and Hamilton’s own familial and political dilemmas.
It is no secret that I am not a huge listener of Hip-Hop or Rap music, because I have always found the negative connotations and gender politics of the genre somewhat off-putting in the past. To my relief, there is nothing of any harm in the otherwise tasteful lyrics, which have their own sense of inventive word play and tempo, alongside an array of other genre-hopping songs. Even if at times the music seems better suited for a concept-album, in lieu of Jesus Christ Superstar than it does a stage musical. There is no denying that Lin Manuel Miranda is an incredibly gifted and skilled composer/lyricist, his previous work on In The Heights and his current work on various projects for Disney such as Moana and the forthcoming remake of The Little Mermaid, is evidential of the successful career he will have long after Hamilton.
While the musical does have flaws, its sense of inclusiveness amongst the multiracial cast, is one of the most rare and progressive things to be seen in the world of theatre. It is very fascinating and refreshing how these historical figures are being seen through a different light, amongst people of colour in the times when the need for equality and togetherness is greater than it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hopefully we can expect to see more progressive musicals to come in the future for multiracial actors in the West End.
Hamilton is now booking until 28 July 2018