Hamilton: An American Musical, a rap musical about Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the USA, is a worldwide sensation that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
It is more than likely you have heard of this Broadway sensation. The show, now also playing in Chicago, touring the United States and performing nightly at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London’s West End, is permanently sold out.
This is nothing new as it has been almost impossible to obtain tickets to the show since it began off-Broadway in February 2015. It moved to the thriving world of Broadway in August 2015, where it made advance sales of over $30 million before its opening night. As reviewers and audiences did nothing but rave with adoration, it quickly became clear that we were not witnessing a fad or craze, but instead we had been presented with the musical for the decade.
While the 80s enjoyed Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera, the 90s had Jonathan Larson’s Rent and the 2000s welcomed Stephen Schwartz and Wicked, we can now embrace Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical with the thunderous applause and adoration it deserves.
Three years on and the love has not diminished, as more and more people experience the magic for the first time. Last night I joined them and fell under the spell of Hamilton.
The sell-out is not quite as a bad as it once was, with tickets available on the night if you have £80 or £90 to spare, but for those who are not looking to pay so much the key is to book far, far in advance. My own were purchased back in February, and for £37 I secured fairly central tickets for the 1st of October. A long time to wait but a smart decision, as even on a Monday night, after the end of London’s tourist season, there was not a spare seat to be seen.
There was an electric anticipation in the audience, as for many like me, this experience had at least two years of anticipation behind it. The thought briefly flickered through my mind, what if I had built it up to be too much? What if years of listening to the cast album on repeat had raised my expectations too high? They hadn’t.
I am not normally one to be lost for words: ask me to talk about something I love and I can go on about it for days. Yet I left the theatre breathless and completely lost for words. This is the musical for everyone to see, and the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics is strong, openly apparent and enough to have an audience of British men and women crying over the achievements of the American War of Independence.
On this night Ash Hunter played Alexander Hamilton, the highly intelligent, wordy founding father of the USA, who writes his way from poverty to power. The part was first bought to life by the musical’s creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose voice echoes throughout the cast album, but Hunter steps into the part perfectly. The awkwardness of youth, the excitement and passion of opportunity and the steady maturity of adulthood are embodied brilliantly by the young actor, who the audience sees age before their eyes.
All praise and applause needs to be extended to Sharon Rose (Eliza Hamilton), and Miriam-Teak Lee (Angelica Schuyler), for their powerhouse performances. In a play mostly concerned with politics and war, a man’s world in the 18th and 19th century, the actresses took complete command whenever they stepped onto the stage. Lee performed the role of the witty, flirtatious, sister-in-law to Hamilton with gravitas and charisma. There was no doubting that she was in control of every part of her life. Rose, meanwhile, gave a stunning performance as Hamilton’s wife, her character’s quiet strength brought to life through a calm performance mixed with flawless, rich vocals. The journey from helpless romantic, supporting mother, betrayed wife, to widow was powerful and the transition from supporting character to hero of the story seamless.
The musical’s final number, Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story, begins with a recount of the achievements of Alexander and then turns to the character of Eliza, who tells her own story. The play ends not with Hamilton but Eliza centre stage as the cast sing of the great works she went on to do. Hamilton appears briefly, embracing his wife, but then steps back once again leaving Eliza centre stage. The play ends with Eliza reaching upwards to the sky, and with a gasp, as if she has seen him again, she breathes out the word Alexander and the play is done.
The ending will steal your breath, the play will kidnap your heart, and despite an almost three-hour running time, you will wish for more. This is not just a musical about a political figure, or a war long ago: it is a musical about life and the human experience, an exploration of forgiveness, integrity, redemption and regret. It might be a struggle to get tickets, an eight-month wait even, but it is entirely and completely worth it.