Hamilton on the West End: Review and Reflections
Yes- It deserves the hype.
Hamilton has become a groundbreaking, convention-defying, award-winning international phenomenon; but at the same time is it so much more. It is the topical, powerful and unapologetic musical which the world (not just America) needs right now.
Packed with rap, hip-hop and R’n’B, infused with expert lyricism and masterful motifs, Lin Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack comes alive on stage. 17th Century political debates are turned into colourful rap battles, and complicated political concepts are explained in explosive, driven numbers. Through his independently written and composed music, Lin Manuel Miranda masterfully transforms the setting and story of an obscure treasury secretary to an intelligent yet accessible series of intense numbers that can keep even the most clueless Brit satisfied for 2 and a half hours. If that isn’t masterful writing, then what is?
Tasked with performing these songs in the title role stands Jamael Westman, a recent graduate from RADA in his first ever large theatrical role- but there are no rookie errors here, as his brilliant acting takes the audience on a journey through every aspect of Hamilton’s character, from ambitious revolutionary to master wordsmith to loving father. He certainly lives up to Lin Manuel Miranda’s legacy. For me, another stand out actor was Rachelle Ann Go (as Eliza) whose rendition of ‘Burn’ was my favourite number of the night, thanks in part to her excellent emotional vocals. The casting of the founding fathers was just as diverse and representative of so many different cultures as Lin Manuel Miranda intended- and in a world that shows in its media so little of the cultural variation it holds, this is a bold and important statement. We are living in the 21st century, not the 17th, and Hamilton is proud to show it.
Now, to the question burning on every American’s lips:
WON’T THE BRITS HATE IT?
From its extremely American setting to its mockery of our King George III (played by Michael Jibson, who was by the way hilarious), many people were worried that Hamilton wouldn’t translate well for a British audience. In my opinion, the very opposite was true.
Social activism in Britain is facing a difficult time. With Brexit leading to a rise in racist attitudes and hugely increasing numbers of hate crimes, especially towards immigrants, hearing a whole audience cheer to the line “Immigrants! We get the job done!” was a memorable and uplifting moment. British people, too, can relate to stories of struggling against oppression, and can benefit hugely from seeing icons of many races take to the stage in revolution. In 2016/17, the government reported 62,685 racially-motivated hate crimes had taken place in Britain alone- an increase of nearly 20,000 from 2014/15. It is in times like these that musicals like Hamilton can encourage all of us to ‘not throw away our shot’- and take a stand against hatred.
Lin Manuel Miranda set out to tell a story of America past, whilst reflecting the diversity of America present. I don’t think anyone imagined that one day, his story would become an astounding, empowering call to action for millions of music lovers across the globe.
Image credit Hamilton Musical.