If you haven’t heard of Hamilton, where have you been!? This 11 time Tony Award winning musical has taken the world by storm since its debut back in 2015. Based on the often overlooked story of one of America’s founding fathers, Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspired to create a musical based around Alexander Hamilton after reading a biography about him. Opening on both broadway and in the west end to universal acclaim, it is now kicking off its first UK tour in Manchester.
A contemporary retelling of history through hip-hop might not sound like a recipe for success, but Hamilton is a rare case of a show that not only warrants its hype but surpasses it. The music itself is sung-through, meaning very little dialogue exists outside the music. This works well due to the diverse array of songs; from girl power anthem ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ to the anthemic ‘Alexander Hamilton’, it is an eclectic mix of sounds which stay true to the hip-hop genre. Having cabinet meetings and debates played out as rap battles is a stroke of genius. With much of the music cramming in so many more words per minute, it is fast pace and absorbing whilst allowing so much more story to be told at engaging pace. Hamilton rips up the rulebook and reinvents what musical theatre can be.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics are immaculate, he is a true poetic in every sense of the word. Each time you listen to the songs you pick up another intricacy in the multi-layered and sophisticated lyrics. There is a reason it became the first ever cast recording to receive Diamond status in its sales. However, until you have heard these songs live in a theatre, you haven’t truly experienced them.
Shaq Taylor has a unique take on the title character, playing him with an almost boyish optimism that allows us to understand his infamous drive and work ethic. This simultaneously gives him a likability that isn’t always realised in other portrayals, making him truly compelling to watch. Several actors multi-role, playing one character in the first act and another in the second. None do this quite as well as the incomparable Billy Nevers as Lafayette and Jefferson. Never’s take on Jefferson is camp, colourful and full of attitude and was a real highlight. Aisha Jawando’s commanding portrayal of Angelica had bucket loads of attitude, stealing any scene she was in. This is one of the most hardworking and accomplished casts out there, with truly no weak links.
Often on tour you can get a watered down version compared to the West End, due to various factors. However, Hamilton gives the full experience. The imposing wooden set, complete with balcony strikes you from the second you walk into the auditorium. It remains clean with no set changes, which is to its merit. A series of revolves in the stage do the hard work here, transporting characters to different scenes and elevating dance numbers to the next level. The minimalistic staging allows the performances, lighting and choreography to take centre stage.
The choreography itself is mesmerising and it is easy to see why Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography won at both the Tonys and the Oliviers. The whole cast are so tight and polished, it is hard to believe that this is one of their first performances together. When they all come together for the opening song ‘Alexander Hamilton’ you really feel their power and know you are in for an unforgettable experience. This is juxtaposed beautifully by the most incredible lighting you will ever experience in the theatre. Not only does it convey and shift emotion, it frames different parts of the stage to split scenes beautifully.
Hamilton is by far one of the greatest shows of the 21st century, on so many levels. This truly is Les Miserables for a new generation of theatre fans. Proving that theatre need not be elitist, the audience are as diverse as those on stage and it's wonderful to see. Now that it is finally on tour, people across the UK will finally get to be in ‘The Room Where It Happens’, and I implore you to get a ticket whilst there are still some left. Hamilton is on at Manchester Palace Theatre until Saturday 24 February 2024, before touring the country.
Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.