Review - Hamilton is 'here to stay' at the Victoria Palace Theatre
What's left to be said about Hamilton that's not already been said? One of the central questions the show asks is precisely who the storytellers are of our personal and collective histories: "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story", as the final number asks of the life story the show has just relayed and replayed of Alexander Hamilton, one of the key players in defining and refining the American constitution. By the same token, who is now telling the stories about the show it comes from? And can and should you believe them, as it has become probably the most hyped Broadway import of the century so far?
Ben Brantley, chief theatre critic of the New York Times, declared in the opening sentence of his review when the show transferred to Broadway from Off-Broadway's Public Theatre in the summer of 2015, "Yes, it really is that good." He added, "I am loath to tell people to mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets to a hit Broadway show. But Hamilton might just about be worth it — at least to anyone who wants proof that the American musical is not only surviving but also evolving in ways that should allow it to thrive and transmogrify in years to come."
And now the show has arrived in London - its first appearance on non-US territory - and it's even more thrilling than I - already an avid fan who has seen it four times in New York - could hope for. Just as Les Miserables has proved to be a universal story, stretching far beyond its deeply etched story of revenge, retribution and revolution to speak to a human need for healing and forgiveness, so Hamilton captures the heartbeat and heartbreak of a nation trying to find itself - and relates it directly to a pursuit it is still engaged in trying to define anew today, maybe especially today, in the age of the 45th President Donald Trump. "Immigrants, we get the job done" is a line that gets the biggest cheer of the night - and it's just as relevant in Brexit England as it is in Trump's America right now.
"I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I am not throwing away my shot," sings Hamilton, and the show - composed and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also originally played the title role - is equally young, scrappy and hungry, and determined not to throw away its shot.
There's absolutely no chance of that happening in the dynamic, propulsive staging of director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, or the extraordinarily talented British cast assembled to perform it here.
This show may be about history, but it also makes history itself: not just in the freshness and vivacity of its rap-based score that could come from the charts today, but also in the colour-blind diversity of its cast. Recent RADA graduate Jamael Westman is a riveting presence in the title role, with Rachelle Ann Go (most recently as star of Miss Saigon in the West End and on Broadway) vocally thrilling as Hamilton's wife Eliza. There are also scene-stealing, hilarious performances from Michael Jibson as King George and Jason Pennycooke as the Marquis de Lafayette, with robust performances, too, from Giles Terera as Aaron Burr, Tarinn Calendar as James Madison and Obioma Ugoala as George Washington.
But it’s also impossible to take your eyes off the amazing dance ensemble who move with utter fluidity.
And if it’s not enough to give the show a rave review, a separate one is also due to the Victoria Palace - the theatre has been given a stunning make-over for Hamilton's arrival that has seen it almost entirely gutted and remodelled, with new box seating at the rear of the stalls and dress circles and extensive new public areas in a new extension that has added bars and toilets at every level.
Both the show and the theatre are here to stay.
What the popular press said...
"In the end, however, the power of Hamilton lies in its ability to make the past seem vividly present. It suggests its subject was an Icarus who flew too close to the sun. But it also shows that he was an outsider who believed in strong central government and an enlightened capitalism. Above all, Miranda has created an invigorating and original musical that, at a time of national crisis, celebrates America’s overwhelming debt to the immigrant."
Michael Billington, The Guardian (five stars)
"This musical is history in the re-making and I mean that quite literally."
Ann Treneman, The Times (five stars)
"Whether or not Hamilton is the best musical of our generation – it clearly is, but whatever – it’s been a hit for the only reason anything is a hit: because it is a great work of entertainment."
Andrzej Łukowski, Time Out (five stars)
"Reviewing it feels like sizing up the Mona Lisa or Beethoven’s Fifth and, in truth, Hamilton lands on the London stage looking every inch the classic."
Matt Trueman, Variety
"“The Greatest Show on Earth”, one paper declared the other day. C’mon! But seriously folks, there’s going to be more where that came from, because – lock up your doubters: I have to report that it really is as good as we’ve been told."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph (five stars)
"Hamilton is a touchstone. It’s zeitgeist, youthquake, Momentum, it’s woke, it’s post-musical. From masculinity, power struggles and the small things on earth, it metastasises into a crying epic about legacy, principle, nations, all the incredible mongrel people within those nations, and how all those people – every single one – can change the world."
Tim Bano, The Stage (five stars)
"Hamilton is a knockout, and its British cast is superb, with two star-making performances from Giles Terera and, in the title role, magnetic newcomer Jamael Westman."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard (five stars)
"This has been the most frenziedly anticipated musical in London since The Book of Mormon and the implacable publicity blitz might lead even the most mildly rebellious soul to wonder if anything could possibly live up to this degree of hype. I’m delighted to report that, for the most part, Hamilton manages to do so – quite exhilaratingly..."
Paul Taylor, the Independent (five stars)