Book, Music and Lyrics by
directed by Thomas Kail
VICTORIA PALACE THEATRE
Review by Clive Burton
Alexander Hamilton was the right man in the right place at the right time. The least likely of America’s Founding Fathers, this precocious polymath shed his reviled status as a bastard immigrant from the Caribbean to become the new nation's first Treasury Secretary and a leading player in the fight for independence.
For this, he earned a place in the history books.
Now Lin-Manuel Miranda’s monolithic musical - a sung through amalgam of jazz, R and B, rap and hip-hop (with Broadway tunes thrown in for good measure) - has its first production outside America and its success looks like achieving cult status in the annals of music theatre.
In a narrative-packed story, lucidly directed by Thomas Kail, every word is delivered with crystal clarity thanks to the new Victoria Palace’s state-of-the-art amplification, and its wide stage accommodates the large cast handsomely, whether in rousing martial displays, intimate congressional wrangling, confidential domestic exchanges or the grand panoply of official set-pieces animated by Andy Blankenbuehler’s fluid and imaginative choreography.
Miranda’s clarity of thought is to the fore throughout his multi-facetted show and his intriguing book duly cedes moments of (non-rapping) calm during which the audience can gather their thoughts after particularly-demanding narrative passages.
Flashbacks and skilful résumés give audiences the chance to recap on the complex story and view situations from the points of view of different characters: narrative exposition remains exemplary throughout and the audience remained rapt in its attention at every stage.
The opening number sets the scene with a year-by-year, event-by-event summary of plot and characters, placing them within a welcome historical context for British audiences unfamiliar with events that are second nature to most Americans.
There is plenty to get your teeth into in the meatily-dramatic plot, whose characters are drawn with a precision that ensures compulsive watching: even if the incessant rapping can prove a little monotonous on occasion, it is delivered with such verve and vibrancy that any reservations are quickly forgotten.
The story careens from one high point to the next, born aloft by a fast-moving production whose compelling dramatic impetus is maintained at every turn as Hamilton evolves from a gauche young provincial newcomer to powerful influencer as George Washington's right-hand man.
In a towering performance, the 6’4” recent RADA graduate, Jamael Westman plays Hamilton with a serenity that belies his inner turmoil, inhabiting the world of outsider in a new country whose stigma as an immigrant is mitigated by the enormity of his intellectual prowess.
Westman also embodies the conflicting needs of a womaniser simultaneously embroiled with two wealthy Schuyler sisters: Rachelle Ann Go’s Eliza - whom he marries in a dynastic love match, despite carrying a torch for her sister (Rachel John's Angelica) throughout a largely epistolary relationship - unlike his carnal pursuit of Christine Allado’s smouldering seductress, Maria Reynolds, whose husband’s blackmailing is instrumental in Hamilton’s downfall.
A series of comedy solos by Michael Jibson gives him the catchiest numbers as England’s ‘mad king’ George III, whose petulant power-hungry monarch yearns for retirement from the onerous cares of State.
His comic king is matched by Obioma Ugoala’s jocund Washington and Jason Pennycooke’s dual roles of a foppish Frenchified Lafayette and Prince-inspired, purple-attired, Jefferson.
These roles are balanced by the rather more realistic interpretation of Hamilton’s nemesis, Aaron Burr: in awe of his young protégé, and jealous of his covert manipulation in shaping the nascent nation, Giles Terera creates a believably suave fairweather friend who eventually mortally wounds Hamilton in a fatal dual, leaving it to his dedicated widow, Eliza, to ensure appropriate historical recognition for her late husband in the pantheon of American greats .
Ultimately, though, the decision as to ‘who lives, who dies, who tells your story?’ remains in the masterful hands of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has created a proud legacy worthy of his inspirational subject.