Late January 2017, we touched down in a very, very cold London after an amazing two weeks on honeymoon in Thailand. And I was suffering both jet-lag and the post-vacation blues, badly. But I knew that I also had a mission and something to look forward to.
I needed to fight off my jetlag so that I could be raring to go first thing in the morning to exercise some computer magic. The online queue for Hamilton was opening that day.
After an extraordinarily frustrating ticket buying process (it was less than ideal), I was able to log off around noon secure in the fact that I had two of the hottest theatre tickets in London history.
I believe that tickets sold out by the end of the day. When a show makes it’s West End transfer it’s a big deal. Definitely a big deal, and I was as excited to finally see the show as I was curious to see how a show about the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers of America would fare in England.
Fast forward to January 2018, just a few weeks short of a year later and I finally was able to see ‘Hamilton’ in the West End, so this will be my spoiler free review….
It was wonderful. Simply incredible. I’ve rarely had a theatre experience like it before. Even walking in to the theatre you could sense just how excited everyone was to finally be there. A cultural phenomenon would be a pretty valid statement.
The show is witty, it’s intelligent, the musical score is brilliant, the story is compelling and the whole show is an emotional rollercoaster. I laughed aloud many a time and I was moved to tears at three distinct moments. (‘Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)’, ‘Stay Alive (the reprise)’, and ‘The World was Wide Enough’). I want to spare a few seconds to talk about my particular feelings during the Battle of Yorktown piece. It’s such a stereotypical and “American” thing to say but it made me feel so proud. I’ve been disgusted at the American government so much lately that the contrast of being so proud of the magnificent minds that formed my country, the sacrifice that it took and the sheer audacity of it moved me to tears.
Recent RADA graduate Jamael Westman was excellent as Hamilton. He had an easy grace about him and everything about his performance was effortless. But the absolute standout number of this cast and this production, for me is Giles Terera’s (Aaron Burr) “The Room Where It Happens”. Terera has the most difficult job in the show. He has to make us feel something for Aaron Burr and help to make sense of his actions. And does he. At the end of the musical, when I cried during ‘The World was Wide Enough’ I cried for Burr. Sam made a really good point after the show. In terms of plot structure, it follows the same lines of “Amadeus”. Burr is Salieri to Hamilton’s Mozart.
Jason Pennycooke was a good Lafayette, but in the second half when he plays Jefferson, he really came into his own. Jefferson becomes the villain you love to hate. He prances and he preens, a true fop; he’s delighted with any bad news that devastates his political rivals and it’s so much fun to watch. One of my favourite performances in the show was, Obioma Ugoala’s George Washington. He had such grativas and candour. He became the perfect hero, a fairytale wise ‘king’ and I was genuinely sad to see him go (though completely understood why he needed to not run for president again).
King George’s (Michael Jibson) magnificently camp and insane tunes are the ultimate ear-worms and I’ve been singing his pieces non-stop. Every time George is on stage you can’t help but feel a palpable “fun” energy. His scenes are the most panto-esque that I’ve ever encountered in an American show (where we have no history of the panto).
I’d listened to the original cast recording many times before I saw ‘Hamilton’ on the West End, which is slightly unfair to the current cast. (And comparisons like that are always hard; it’s difficult to every top the “first” way you listen to something.) But the West End cast is the Broadway equal in many, many different ways. My only *slight* disappointment with the show was Rachelle Ann Go’s “Eliza”. Compared to Phillipa Soo her voice just didn’t seem quite strong enough and I wished there had been more feeling in her renditions of “Helpless” and “Burn”.
I guess my parting advice would be to believe the hype. it’s an exhilarating show and a well-deserved mega hit.
***As a random side note: this is the first show in the Victoria Palace Theatre since it closed for reconstruction over a year and a half ago. And as much as I hate to give Cameron Mackintosh credit for anything, his team added loads more women’s toilets in the design so the queue to the ladies during the production were actually really reasonable. A stance I wish many more venues would take.***