Quick summary: Y E S!!!
Hamilton: An American Musical is a hip-hop musical that first graced my Spotify playlist about two and a half years ago, and I saw it for the first time ever in London last week. I went with my dad and sister, who I have belting along to ‘Satisfied’ in the car with for those two and a half years, and my mum who, when hearing said ‘Satisfied’ sessions told me I would never have a rap career. My mum didn’t know all that much about the musical, so I was especially looking forward to seeing her reaction to it.
The first thing that can be said about the Hamilton live experience is that the Victoria Palace Theatre, where it is currently running in London, creates a fantastic atmosphere the minute you walk in. The ambiance was perfect, from the Georgian décor including upholstered chair and chandeliers, to the smiling faces of the stewards, this theatre felt like a truly happy place to be. Everyone was clearly ecstatic to be there, and I think it summarised exactly what live theatre is supposed to be.
The actual show also does not fail the expectations. I saw a Saturday matinee performance; Alexander Hamilton was played by alternate Ash Hunter, and Aaron Burr was played by stand-by Sifiso Mazibuko. Outstanding performances included Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler), Cleve September (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), Obioma Ugoala (George Washington) and Tarinn Callender (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison).
Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler) was my mum’s favourite – she had a confidence and wit that shone through her impeccable voice. Her sort-of-love-interest (is that a thing?) Ash Hunter’s performance was equally stunning, and every so often we’d get a glimpse of a fantastic, warm and rich voice from him. The Salieri/Mozart-like tensions between Hamilton and Burr is accentuated in the live performance, and Mazibuko effectively portrayed Burr’s slippery slope of jealousy.
The chemistry between Cleve September (Laurens), Tarinn Callender (Mulligan) and Jason Pennycooke (Lafayette) was also flawless. They brought an authentic laddish friendship to the stage that had the whole audience laughing at several points. Obioma Ugoala (Washington) seemed to induce a sort of hushed reverence over the audience whenever he sang, and the girl in front of me was sobbing during ‘One Last Time’ (I think that says enough about his skill.) Another tear-inducing moment was when Philip (Cleve September) dies in the second half (spoiler…!) With my mum’s hands over her mouth in shock and my sister wiping a tear, I think it’s safe to say Cleve’s dying skills were second to none (!) This skill is indicative in September’s performance as a whole, both as Laurens and as Philip.
For a long time, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what makes Hamilton stand out in the way it does. Evidently, it is ground-breaking in its genre (revolutionary, if you will), and the choreography from Andy Blankenbuehler is equally innovative. However, as my mum rightly said, the choreography in many other shows, such as Wicked and Strictly Ballroom is awe-inspiring. The vocal performances are brilliant, but that is to be expected in a West End performance. The storyline is different to anything else on stage, but many shows have inventive story lines.
After seeing the show, I think I have a slightly better idea of what it is that gives Hamilton the hype it has (and deserves.) It is not the fact that it has great choreography, or lyrics, or music, although unrefutably all these things are amazing in the show. It is the charisma the show has; there is something young and fearless about it. It has nothing to lose, and this shines through the performances from the actors. They throw themselves completely into their characters, and somehow manage to bring America’s Founding Fathers into the modern day in such a charismatic and authentic way. The Hamilton hype comes because of the elegance, character and vivacity of the people who are involved in it, which only serves to heighten and bring to life the arguable genius of the music, choreography and direction.
I mean, the fact that my Dad looked this happy to see King George (Michael Jibson) at stage door after the show says it all. And my mum also loved it, but re-iterated I will never be a rapper. Thanks Mum!