Hamilton on the West End: A review

Ciara Munnelly gives her review of Hamilton, the most anticipated show to hit the West End in years.

Photo: Wikimedia

The most eagerly awaited musical to grace the West-End stage in recent years has finally opened its doors and filled its seats, debuting on 6 December 2017. Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be one of the first people in the room where it happened – thanks to my sister’s persistence with the pre-sale – and the experience did not disappoint.

Hardcore Hamilton fans have been waiting over 2 years to see the soundtrack that they have been listening to on repeat play out before their very eyes. This musical is more along the lines of an operetta in that all of the lines are sung (or in this case rapped). When I first heard the soundtrack, I wasn’t too keen on rapping being considered a musical but actually it worked really well. Lin Manuel Miranda, who has written the music, the story and even starred in the Broadway performances has attempted a show of a similar nature before with In the Heights, but it didn’t quite get the traction that this one has. Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US treasury and his importance in America’s bid for independence. The story is both heartfelt and comic all at the same time and leaves the audience wondering who indeed tells our story.

It’s hard to define the genre of the music that is used within this production as it never stays something too long. There are the hip-hop undertones of the opening number and “My Shot”, one of the most motivating songs that I have heard in a long time, not to mention the more R&B notes of the Schuyler sisters’ appearance. As if that wasn’t enough of a contrast, we are treated to comic breaks with the addition of King George and his “sweet” threats to the US in “You’ll be back”. How anyone could get bored when the pace is constantly changing and the characters are always moving, is a mystery to me.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy the choreography when the show first started and was quite irritated by the presence of the ensemble at first and yet, as the trend goes, I was pleasantly surprised by how much they added to the performance. Simple movements, yet all perfectly in time leaving very little room for error was the overall message in the execution of this choreography. It was incredibly modern and there was not one shred of cheesy jazz hands to be seen. Seamless is the only word I could use to describe it, which explains why it was used to frame the set changes and create a flow to the ever-changing pace of the action.

The costumes were a modern twist on period dress, especially for the ensemble who were wearing undergarments of the military until they were on a particular side. The women’s dresses were suitably puffy and the garishness of the military paraphernalia reminded us where we were at all times. Much like the costumes, the set at its barest was a skeleton with some staircases and a balcony, yet the addition of a desk and telephone transported us to Washington’s office or the presence of guns indicating the movement to the battle ground. Yet again, simple but effective.

Casting for this show was a long process. After the success of the production on Broadway, Manuel Miranda had to get it just right to ensure that London saw the same kind of results and he didn’t seem to put a foot wrong. Rachel Ann Go, as Eliza, Hamilton’s long-suffering wife was outstanding as was expected with a number of other West End roles under her belt (including Fantine in Les Miserables). Jamael Westman, one of the last to be cast, in his title role was believable in his not so innocent demeanour because we cannot forget that Hamilton was by no means perfect. However, there were two standout members of the cast for me. Obioma Ugoala embodied the strength and determination of George Washington perfectly, with moving solos especially in his message to Hamilton – “History Has Its Eyes on You”. The strange thing about this show is the role change. Quite a number of the cast changed their role in the interval, including the other standout performer, Jason Pennycooke who took on the flamboyance of Lafayette in the first half and the utterly hilarious Prince-like Thomas Jefferson in the second. Despite having favourites, there was not one member of the cast who disappointed me, and that never happens!

I know that musicals say it a lot but there really is something for everyone in this one. There are some truly heart-breaking moments, political references, comedy, violence, rapping, singing, dancing, duelling and love. I cannot praise this show enough and neither could the rest of the audience as the final scene elicited an immediate standing ovation and a lot of tears were shed as the performance came to a close.

Unfortunately, due to the hype surrounding this production, tickets are like gold-dust are pretty much sold out till July. If you are lucky enough to go along, relish every second and you too can be someone who will tell the story of tonight.


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