Review - Hamilton: An American Musical (Victoria Palace Theatre)

Since it opened off-Broadway in 2015, Hamilton: An American Musical has been gaining plaudits exponentially. Having been nominated for a record breaking 16 Tony Awards in 2016, and winning 11, as well as the Pulitzer prize for Drama and countless other decorations, the buzz around this particular musical theatre phenomenon has been almost impossible to ignore. 

Jamael Westman and the London cast of Hamilton
Photo credit Matthew Murphy
With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton is a sung and rapped through musical which tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, whose face can be found on the ten dollar bill. Told mostly through the eyes of Hamilton's jealous political opponent Aaron Burr, Hamilton covers the period of time between the American Revolutionary War of 1776 and Hamilton's death in 1804. It addresses many of Hamilton's biggest successes such as becoming the first secretary of the treasurer under George Washington, and his most notable failures, such as his part in America's first sex scandal, whereby he engaged in a highly publicized affair with married woman, Maria Reynolds. Although several embellishments are made to the historical events featured, Hamilton still manages to include a great deal of enlightening information about the titular character and those who surrounded him at a pivotal time in American history.

Despite its massive success on Broadway, there was no guarantee that Hamilton would have such a resonance across the Atlantic. After all, our ten pound note has the faces of Queen Elizabeth II and Jane Austen emblazoned across it, and the war for American Independence is just one of many wars which Britain fought in the 18th century, and therefore its significance carries a lot less weight over here. However, whilst the content is arguably less significant in Britain, the themes are incredibly familiar. It could be said that the unrest America faced in its infancy is not dissimilar to Britain today: torn apart by arguments about money and sovereignty in the face of Brexit, which has been a mainstay in British news since the results of the 2016 referendum. After all, the American revolutionaries' cries of "no taxation without representation" bear a striking similarity to the Brexiteers' campaign slogan that the £350 million sent to the EU each week would be better off being spent on the NHS (a slogan which has since been retracted). Similarly, the colour conscious casting of Hamilton, which highlights the diversity of both America and Britain today, feels particularly politically charged. When Caribbean born immigrant Alexander Hamilton and French military officer Lafayette high five and proclaim "immigrants, we get the job done" it's impossible not to be reminded of the Xenophobia which at least partially fuelled Britain's own brexit shaped 'revolution'. 

Regardless of how educational or reflective of the current British political climate Hamilton is, first and foremost it is a piece of mainstream musical theatre, and therefore it'd be nothing without some killer tunes and clever lyrics. A rap musical about the American founding fathers may have sounded unthinkable a few years ago, but of course the now astronomically famous Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose songwriting credits include In The Heights and Disney's Moana, has managed the seemingly impossible, and Hamilton is a triumph. 

The titular character, which the casting breakdown accurately describes as Eminem meets Sweeney Todd, sings and raps wittily, with some extremely clever and intricate rhymes showcasing both Alexander Hamilton's much lauded intelligence, and also the immensely talented lyrical skills of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Meanwhile, Hamilton's Schuyler Sisters, comprising of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler, and the lesser featured Peggy Schuyler, give off an R&B girl band vibe as they dazzle the audience with gorgeous harmonies and irresistible earworms, whilst looking for "a mind at work!" 

Rachelle Ann Go, Rachel John and Christine Allado as The Schuyler Sisters in Hamilton
Photo credit - Matthew Murphy
The London cast is filled with some of the most talented musical theatre performers working today, with Giles Terera giving a spine tingling performance as the spurned Aaron Burr, and Jason Pennycooke adding humour to the proceedings in his dual role as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. The Schuyler Sisters are a particularly enjoyable trio, with Rachelle Ann Go exuding sweetness and excitability as the lovestruck Eliza, and Rachel John commanding the stage with immense power as Angelica, the oldest sister. Christine Allado does what she can with the relatively small role of youngest sister Peggy, but shines in act two as sultry Maria Reynolds. Most notably though, the titular role of "young scrappy and hungry" Alexander Hamilton is taken on by newcomer Jamael Westman. The RADA graduate is the perfect fit, as although he seems at first to be less cocky and confident than his reputation suggests, Westman's Hamilton has an easy swagger and coolness which perfectly antithesis his intensely cerebral personality and at times fiery temper. 

Hamilton is not only a skillfully written and performed piece of musical theatre, it is also impressively designed and slickly directed. Paul Tazewell's costume design is simple yet beautiful, and merges the 18th century and present day very cleverly. In particular, the ensemble's somewhat androgynous costumes feel modern and quirky, whilst also harking back to the waistcoats, breeches and stockings popular in the 1700s. The quirkiness found in the design of the production is also seen in Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, which mirrors the hip hop stylings in the music, whilst at times giving a nod to the balls which took place in the 18th century.

From start to finish Hamilton buzzes and crackles with a bustling energy, and director Thomas Kail keeps everything moving along slickly and succinctly, despite the fact that just like Alexander Hamilton himself, the musical's pace rarely slows down. With smart and snappy lyrics, a fascinating storyline, and an energetic cast which elevates the already sublime production, Hamilton is a new musical which will be admired for years to come.