This Saturday, I saw Hamilton at the Victoria Palace. I’ve been dying to see it since it opened on Broadway in 2015. The hype of its arrival in London has been infectious and I was trying desperately not to be too excited, worried it wouldn’t live up to the incredible praise it’s received. After all, this musical has received 16 Tony nominations and won 11, received the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In fact, I tried to find a few negative reviews to soften the ground a bit. They were almost impossible to find. “Overrated,” said one review… by President Donald Trump… I figured, if he hates it, it’s definitely worth the time.
And at 2 hours and 45 minutes, it’s a fairly large chunk of time to give. There’s an unspoken pact between theatre creators and theatregoers. We give them the money and time they ask for and demand an experience which will reach us on some level, either emotionally, creatively or with a technical prowess which blows us away. And these tickets were painfully not cheap.
Not to mention, having grown up on theatre and musicals, the bar has always been set unfairly high on newcomers. Even the incomparable Andrew Lloyd Webber, for me, has never written anything in the last ten years which will ever top Phantom of the Opera or Jesus Christ Superstar.
I was wrong to be worried. In one viewing, Hamilton is now one of my top five musicals. Believe me, I hadn’t thought it possible. It blew me away. I loved it. I’m addicted to the music which I immediately bought. The choreography was exhausting just to watch and I so admired the way every song was constructed. And it’s one the few times I can remember expecting so much from a play and not be disappointed in the least.
My worry from the beginning was the genre of music. I’ve not listened to a lot of hip-hop music, so I was concerned I wouldn’t have the ear for it. It wasn’t the case at all. The songs are infectious and for the last three days, I’ve been humming them continually. My Shot, Ten Duel Commandments, You’ll Be Back and my absolute favourite The Room Where It Happens are almost on a continuous loop in my head. Not to mention the song Non-Stop which has the repeated line, “How do you write like you’re running out of time?” which, maybe understandably, resonated with me a lot.
But it’s not just a hip-hop musical. Hamilton really isn’t just anything. Lin-Manuel Miranda knows his Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan and grew up on the “Holy Trinity” as he calls it: Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera and Cats. And the influence of traditional musical theatre is still felt in Hamilton, but approached in an exciting and edgy new way. That and the almost Shakespearean feel to Hamilton’s rise and fall makes this a really meaty production with many layers.
Five years ago, the idea of a new, modern and edgy musical about a Founding Father must have seemed ridiculous. It takes a certain level of genius, confidence and perhaps blind optimism to believe that a musical about an 18th-century politician is what theatregoers desperately need, whether they know it or not. And to believe it to such a degree that they can go for almost three hours and charge an arm and a leg for it. This is one of those occasions where it really shouldn’t have worked and yet it did
Most British audiences will know little about the American Founding Fathers. The history we’re taught is mostly European, as we’re so interconnected with one another, it’s impossible to learn about the Medieval period or the Tudors without straying into the politics of France and Spain. In Hamilton, the only British character to appear is King George III, our infamously bonkers monarch who is intentionally written as foppish and deranged. There was always the risk it would simply be ‘too American’ for a British audience.
On that front, Lin-Manuel Miranda had little to worry about. Part of being British is having a natural cynicism and making fun of our leaders is how we show our love. We created political satire. Well, no, okay – the Ancient Greeks invented satire, along with bloody everything else. But they didn’t have the Private Eye, so we’re still quids in there. King George III, played in London by Michael Jibson, has three short songs which are so manic and hilarious they have me laughing even now.
Needless to say, if you can afford it, do try and see it on stage. But given how difficult that can be without selling something vital or committing a couple of crimes, don’t worry. Not only is the musical amazing to listen, it is also going to be a movie so you’ll see it one way or another. There’s also a ticket lottery for its productions both in America and London (yes, that’s how popular these tickets are) which you can sign up for here: http://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery/.
There’s so much I want to talk about! But I’m going to have to leave it here for this post. There will be another soon because I’m desperate to talk about some of the lyrics and themes, but this post is already way too long.