Rachelle Ann Go (Eliza Hamilton) and Jamael Westman (Alexander Hamilton) – Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Performance Date: 19 January 2019 (Matinee)
Venue: Victoria Palace Theatre, London
True theatrical phenomenons do not come along often, but Hamilton is and continues to be just that. Modern, fresh and dynamic; Lin-Manuel Miranda has created a masterpiece like nothing else. Hamilton may have only been in existence a few short years, but it has not only established itself as a modern classic but has systematically broken down the many walls of mainstream theatre, both in terms of content and its diverse and multiracial casting choices.
Hamilton: An American Musical tells the story of one of the lesser founding fathers of America. Alexander Hamilton’s story is the quintessential ‘rags to riches’ tale. Born in obscurity on the Caribbean island of Nevis to an unmarried mother he was orphaned by the age of eleven. By 1777 the immigrant Hamilton was a key figure in the American War of Independence and right-hand man to George Washington. He later heavily influenced the creation of the constitution in his role as first Secretary of the Treasury. A curious and perplexing historical figure, Hamilton’s life was also plagued by scandal.
Having opened in the West End in December 2017 to a plethora of five-star reviews and sweeping the boards at the 2018 Olivier Awards, Hamilton recently celebrated its first London anniversary with a refreshed cast and an extended booking period into May 2019.
The 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow was the inspiration behind the musical which was created by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Prior to Hamilton, Miranda’s main works had been In the Heights, where he first worked with the now director of Hamilton, Thomas Kail. The show opened Off-Broadway before transferring to the Richard Rogers Theatre, Broadway in August 2015 where it continues to enjoy unprecedented popularity.
Jamael Westman has played the titular role since it debuted in the West End and he plays Hamilton with an exuberating charm. He finely balances his embodiment of the character between confidence and arrogance. Westman is incredibly assured and polished in his performance and it is hard to believe that Hamilton is just his third professional theatre credit.
It is not hard to see why this show is so wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. The soundtrack is a clever blend of R&B, hip hop, soul and the more traditional theatrical numbers. The score is catchy with all members of the cast more than holding their own vocally.
There is certainly more than a little bias towards the male characters in terms of stage time but its Hamilton’s female characters that are blessed with the strongest numbers. Recent addition Allyson Ava-Brown takes on the character of morally conflicted Angelica Schuyler and performs Satisfied with scene-stealing authority. Not only has she got an incredibly powerful voice she is able to switch effortlessly from show-stopping vocals to rap.
Original London cast member Rachelle Ann Go plays Hamilton’s long-suffering wife Eliza Schuyler with a palpable vulnerability and performs the number Burn with a raw emotion that reverberates around the auditorium.
With two principals out for this performance, Aaron Burr and Lafayette / Jefferson were played by Waylon Jacobs and Nuno Queimada respectively. Jacobs’s portrayal of Burr is astonishingly nuanced. He is strong vocally and his performance is so refined it is hard to believe he is a standby. Queimada, credited as Swing in the programme, switches between his two characters with finesse and his portrayal as a rather camp Thomas Jefferson is a particular highlight.
Jacobs and Queimada deserve huge plaudits, it is one thing to perform one part convincingly, but to learn multiple parts and to step on stage with a moment’s notice cannot be underestimated. Indeed, Jacobs performed the role of Lafayette / Jefferson only two days later.
Jon Robyns outrageous portrayal of King George III provides some light relief. An over the top caricature of the mad king, Robyns brings the satire and comedy in abundance. His solo numbers You’ll be Back, What Comes Next and I know Him mercilessly mock the British and are delivered in lavish costumes and provide a stark contrast to the American forefathers who are presented in a much more serious fashion.
The staging is simple but effective. A revolving stage utilised incredibly effectively to complement the contemporary choreography, executed perfectly by the wider ensemble cast who are impressively strong and hugely compliment the leads. There is cohesion between the music, lyrics, choreography, costumes and staging that seamlessly mixes old with new and the classic with the contemporary.
With the London booking period being extended again it is difficult to imagine London’s West End without Hamilton being a stalwart. Its popularity appears unwavering; the content still feels fresh, relevant and eerily relatable thanks to political unrest both in the UK and the USA. It could be argued that Les Misérables was the musical phenomenon of the 20th century; Hamilton is well on its way to being the musical phenomenon of the 21st.
With Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ascension to super-stardom and British audiences’ appetite for tickets as insatiable as ever – Hamilton’s appeal will undoubtedly endure and could even blow Les Misérables records out of the water as a mainstay on the West End.