Hamilton: An American Musical, created by Lin Manuel Miranda, explores the rise and fall of the founding father, Alexander Hamilton through lyrical artistry. Telling the story of his life through rap and musical style devices, all aspects of Hamilton’s life are presented by an extremely talented cast.
The show, originally produced in America, promised many things when it was announced it would be showing in Victoria Palace. It certainly delivered and there’s a reason it’s been recognised, nominated and awarded hundreds of times. However, there are many aspects of this musical that either disappointed or provided a new insight into what is possibly the biggest musical release of the decade.
Hamilton has been available to the United Kingdom for a few years now. Personally, I had the cast recording on repeat prior to seeing it performed, which turned out to be a positive and negative thing to do. Miranda’s lyrics combine word play and historical story telling in a sophisticated manner. It’s so skilfully crafted, if you were listening to it the first time, you may miss some of the narrative choices or manipulation of semantics and phonology. As far as the plot goes, the story is purely a dramatisation of actual events, so being able to follow the show isn’t too difficult. Yet, the pacing matches the intensity of its semiotics and moves quickly. Correlating with this, you’re being presented with three hours worth of content, meaning it can almost become tiresome to take in all of its beauty. Therefore, listening to the soundtrack beforehand supported my viewing of the musical.
However, there was also a brilliant new cast performing the show, meaning it was executed differently. I didn’t want to go in with expectations of the show, and I encourage potential audiences not to, however I was equally impressed as I was surprised by the way the songs were performed. Sometimes the humour was exaggerated and sometimes the ideas that came with the more melancholy music were brushed over with anger. Themes in general were adapted quite strongly. The way the show incorporated most styles or approaches to music is still outstanding however, the music is almost the entire show.
There was barely any added speech meaning if you had listened to the musical before, you’d probably go in expecting new devices to support the music. I feel that although the music presents the initial narrative and paces the show, you pay to see visual aspects that bring a new perspective, and this department was lacking. Except for the presentational devices, there was nothing introduced to the audience that you couldn’t have listened to online. In saying that, the actors and orchestra need to be congratulated. If this was viewed like a concert or radio play, it was performed live with professionalism and raw talent. My only criticism here would be that, although the Palace could not occupy the musicians in full view, they deserved to be shown.
With that being said, the actors on display were outstanding. The ensemble cast worked together and delivered every note and emotion with immense passion. They were clearly chosen because they are born performers, and never wavered from whatever role they were in. Considering most applied through open auditions, this is highly impressive. The choreographers also deserve praise if all the dances and movements were considered separately. Noted, the show didn’t deliver much more aside from this alternative look on history using music, but the dance sequences helped emphasise the emotions and events on display. They were brilliantly executed and in classic Miranda style, moved with total fluidity. I’d understand their involvement in the show on the basis that the audience were given some visuals and it built up a sense of unity. However, they seemed to be placed in the show for little reasoning other than to impress audiences, not to further the showing of Hamilton’s life.
Alongside this, the precision each actor dedicated to their characterisation of these historical roles is something to be admired. Yet, it felt as though sometimes each movement was carried out with little meaning. Compared to other shows that rely heavily on direction or choreography, I question if the directors had thought through their intentions before staging the actors in such a way. With regards to the rest of the production team, the costumes were perfectly accurate, stylish and characterised for this musical. The only query that I have when it comes to the display of the musical is the lighting, although perfectly synchronous to the action, it seemed fairly basic for such a high-end production. I’ll credit the design and technology team even so as audiences were forced to focus on small details with the guidance of simple lighting. Moreover, not a single cue was delayed or instruction missed in the form of sound, lighting and props.
The theatre in which the show is currently being performed is undergoing heavy construction. The creative team have worked hard in restoring and maintaining the beautiful historical theatres of Victoria Palace. It’s a brilliant holding place for this intricate show. Around the building are posters and designs that hype audiences up before the show, but unfortunately compared to shows competing against each other in the West End, it appears that they’re still finding their advertising style. Aside from this, the teams have done well to use the rest of the building to their advantage. They adapted the stage to appear rustically appealing and in such a way it was manipulative to every time line and setting presented in Hamilton. Through the constructive use (sometimes over-use) of a revolving stage in unique manners, we were quickly transported into the action. It’s slowly revealed that the set has multiple uses which are enjoyable to view and add to the dramatization of otherwise simple events.
Although simplistic for such a well-reviewed and awarded show, Hamilton deserves the praise. It’s an outstanding show that explores music and history with an ingenious soundtrack and adroit performances. My advice for the weak parts of this show as a new audience member is to watch it with a completely open mind and look out for the small details. The clever turns in words sung by playful ensemble members are what makes this special. If it was approached so that the small details of this show were exaggerated, this would have been a perfectly executed performance, however the wrong things were highlighted. It’s a show I’d absolutely recommend to everyone to go see and deserves recognition, but I wouldn’t stress an urgency as most of it’s available online. Overall, a skilfully brilliant creation in most departments.
If you wanted to see this show, the fastest and cheapest way to get there if you’re travelling from Roehampton University is to go from Barnes Station to Clapham Junction and do a quick change to Victoria Station. The theatre is located directly opposite the station and visible as soon as you exit. This roughly costs around £2.70 so for travelling into central, it’s an easy journey. Tickets aren’t available directly this year but you can enter a daily and weekly lottery for tickets ranging from £10- £37.50 through Delmont Mackintosh Theatres.
Listen to the soundtrack here: