Does Hamilton Live Up To The Hype?

Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre ★★★★★

By Johnny Fox Last edited 8 months ago
Does Hamilton Live Up To The Hype? Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre 5

We tried to keep ourselves pure from all Hamilton-mania advance publicity, colour supplement spreads with cast and creatives, the 11 Tonys it won on Broadway, didn't Spotify the triple-platinum album, shunned touts reselling tickets on the internet, ignored other publications bitching about not being invited to review — and tried to curb our enthusiasm and keep an open mind.

So what is Hamilton about, and is it any good?

It's a long episode during the reign of King George III (as in Madness of ...) in which Alexander Hamilton, himself a Caribbean bastard migrant, fights alongside George Washington in the American war of independence.  It's an important piece of history for Americans, but never having benefited from a BBC dramatisation, the battleground is a bit obscure to us.  And 'our' George is the bad guy.

Well, first of all Cameron, we love what you've done with the place. The seats are comfortable and the decor is a delicious Viennese sweep through Frank Matcham's gilt and plush retaining tradition but with a touch of Secessionist glamour to add to the sense of occasion.

Hamilton is slick, and lavish, and a glorious parade of movement and dance: Andy Blankenbuehler's seamless choreography is a constant athletic cavalcade in which the male chorus frequently flex their pecs in cut-off muscle tops and arch their backs in breeches and boots like Chippendales.

Musically, Hamilton is almost as complex as the story: heralded as a 'rap musical' it's true that there's a lot of fast patter and internal rhyme in the recitative but it's so well done, and so cleanly enunciated, that you forget this comes from a gang heritage of hip-hop and accept it equally as a clever updating of opera.  

Hamilton reboots the through-sung story as assuredly as Evita did in 1978.  Besides, it soon gives way to 'proper' songs you may recognise as ballads, R&B, pop, soul, or — well, any musical genre you care to name: composer, lyricist and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda can turn his hand to all of them.

Three performances stand out for both acting and musical excellence.  This show is not designed to have a star, but if it had one it would be Giles Terera playing VP Aaron Burr compering the battle of Yorktown like an 18th century Sammy Davis Junior, magnificent stage presence and an endlessly pleasing voice.

Jason Pennycooke makes Lafayette camper than his Jacob the maid in La Cage Aux Folles but ye gods can that man throw shapes, and in between the politics and bloodshed Michael Jibson's hilarious King George III is deservedly an audience favourite — although clinically mad, he's possibly the only sane one in this asylum of revolutionary backstabbers.

It's good, beautifully lit and sumptuous to look at and the fluid diversity in the casting feels unselfconscious and apolitical except to celebrate how the United States evolved as a melting pot of many cultures.

It seems ironic now that for many years, the Victoria Palace was the home of The Black and White Minstrel Show.

In so many delightful ways, it still is.

Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre, Booking to 30 June 2018 but probably for everTheat

Last Updated 23 December 2017