Review: Hamilton

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.

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Hamilton played by Jamael Westman and chorus

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.

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King George III played by Michael Jibson

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. 

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11 thoughts on “Review: Hamilton

  1. I grew up on musicals. But the problem with Hamilton is I have listened to hip-hop and rap before, but those genres just aren’t the genres for me. That is why I just have no interest in seeing in a musical. It is just those two genres of music sound gibberish and seem to violent and too gangster for me. So how can earth can those two genres of music work in a musical?

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    1. I imagine a lot of people feel like that!

      But I would say the songs are punchy and forceful, but not ‘violent’ – expect in the context of the songs which are sung about the battles of the American Revolution. The songs are witty, emotional and powerful. And the Schuyler Sisters get the most glorious songs which are so beautiful – listen to ‘Satisfaction’.

      But it’s certainly not for everyone. If you have no interest in the subject matter or the type of music, then it’s obviously not for you. All I would say is don’t judge a musical by its genre! 🙂

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      1. I know what it is like to judge a genre. Back in high school, I judged the genre of tragedy. I felt the genre was pure sad. I ignored it and pushed it far back and told myself I will never love the genre at all.

        But Les MIs proved all the thoughts I had about tragedy wrong. I realized it was not pure sad. I was able to pick up that it has this incredible underlying spirituality with themes like hope, love, sacrifice, compassion, forgives, humanity, and redemption. The songs are just so powerful, passionate, epic, and highly emotionally moving. The characters are so complex in their own ways. The story is so beautiful. That musical would turn my current love of musicals into a passion.

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      2. I completely agree with you! Les Mis shows the nobility behind tragedy. My degree covered a lot of Ancient Greek tragedy so it’s not a genre I shied away from, but I knew Les Miserable word for word long before I knew Euripides or Aeschylus.

        I ended up reading Victor Hugo’s novel after I saw the musical (pretty tough going at that age!) but it’s amazing how well the composers really embodied the themes and emotions of the book into the music. And I’ve always been a bit of a Javert groupie and the book does a lot more to make him a sympathetic character.

        Have you seen Phantom of the Opera? That’s another of my loves and has an element of tragedy in it – particularly in how you choose to view the Phantom.

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      3. My strong love for Les Mis lead me to read the book. The songs strongly embody the characters and the book. I blog a lot about Les Mis it seems. I do not like Javert, but he is such a complex character. I am more of a Jean Valjean fan than Javert. I have a hard time loving antagonists a lot it seems. I tend to root for the protagonist and when that happens, I have a hard time loving the antagonist in the first place.

        I love Phantom of the Opera as well. It is so beautiful and so haunting.

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      4. Jean Valjean is, of course, a real ‘good man’ in a world of quite unpleasant characters. But there’s a quiet strength and tragedy to Javert which I admire – misled, but proud.

        I’ll have to start reading your blog! You’ve got some really lovely character analysis posts!

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      5. It is a new series of my blog i started on why I love certain characters. I also have actual character analysis much much earlier on my blog. I am in the middle of another series as well, which is mystery musical poems, which means you have to guess what nuchal plot I am talking about

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  2. Glad you like Hamilton over there in Britain! Guess you’re not sore at us anymore (right?) There’s another American musical about our founders called 1776, which was first performed on Broadway in 1969, then filmed as a movie, with almost all of the original cast, in 1972. William Daniels shone as John Adams.

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  3. I have been very fortunate to see the show when it was off broadway at The Public before any word had gotten out. I went just because I loved In the Heights, and Lin’s work up until that point. The show was a little different but sitting in that audience you knew that this was going to be something special. I then was lucky to have gotten a ticket from a dear friend for a March 2017 show (after most original cast departed) and then again this past November on a trip to NYC with my daughter, we stood in a stand-by line, just hoping and sure enough we got tickets. And not just awful seats these were prime seats and because they were stand-by I only paid the box office amount (which for the seats we had, I could have easily gotten $800 for.) I am not saying this to gloat, I am saying this because I take my students (I am the theatre teacher for a performing arts school) up to NYC for a weekend of theatre which includes 3 shows, and I have been doing that for 18 years. That combined with sporadic trips, summer workshops and, well, you can say I’ve seen a lot of shows. I have seen a few shows twice, because they were good enough to warrant it. But, Hamilton is the only show I saw 3 times (professionally), and while the Public will be my favorite experience, this last time is my favorite. There were 3 “names” on that stage and the rest of the cast had done bits here and there, but nothing at this scale. And they were incredible. You would think they were the original cast. I attribute that though, not fully to their acting, but to the material. Yes, they all gave great performances, but I believe with other material, they would not have been as memorable. Hamilton, is an incredibly written and dynamically staged show. I really feel that there will not be another Hamilton in my lifetime. But, I am so grateful that I saw it in this lifetime. But I digress. I really just wanted to suggest that you visit the website http://www.genius.com It is tough to describe it, but it basically takes song lyrics and people break the lyrics down and interpret them as they see. Sounds a little skeptical I know. BUT, If you search for Hamilton, you will find the full cast recording on there. Each song lyric diligently interpreted with Lin’s meaning behind them. What makes this so special is that Lin himself, is a verified contributor to the website and offer so much insight on every song. He corrects people if they are off on the lyrics meaning and praises those who nails it. Google Lin Manuel and “Genius” and yo will find interviews etc. where he verifies that it is indeed him. Anyway, after going through each song, my respect, admiration and amazement for Lin and Hamilton is beyond description. I strongly urge you to take a look at it, and read for yourself. It will only enhance your experience of seeing the show and listening to the cast recording that much better. In any case, I am sorry to have rambled on, but this is what happens whenever I am involved in a discussion of Hamilton. Thank you for posting and sharing your experience!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That looks like an amazing site and answers a few questions I had in a post I’m writing about the lyrics and themes of Hamilton. It sounds like you’ve had some wonderful expirences with this musical. I’m so jealous you got to see it at The Public so early. Thanks for sharing your story!

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