Live shows. I am not a huge fan of them, I prefer my entertainment in HD, on a giant screen, from the comfort of a couch. But Hamilton is no ordinary show. We were meant to see this on Thanksgiving last year, which would have been so awesome but the theatre refurb wasn’t complete so we had to settle for a postponement that lapped into the new year which turned out to be fortuitous because we got better seats than we initially had.
Hamilton is the story of how a son of whore and immigrant became an American hero. The brain child of Lin Manuel Miranda who birthed everything in song, prose and lyrical form, from start to finish, it feels and looks and plays out in seamless harmony, scene by scene, character to character, lyrics to lines. This is an extraordinary piece of work, possibly the most extraordinary show to grace a London stage. In my opinion, it is.
The setting is simple, tables, chairs, a revolving stage and moving stairs, and space enough for the drama to unfold. Nothing overly ambitious but all a part of the telling of the era, a particular time in history. This simplicity is all a part of the narrative. The power of Hamilton is in the words, in most musicals we sometimes lose meanings in the melodies that they are embedded in, but the words in Hamilton resonate with us, in the absence of an ambitious set, we have to pay attention, to listen and to follow along, but none of that feel like a chore. The words are such that you cannot help but listen, in song form and spoken to action, they carry the show from start to finish. They are said with purpose, a courage of conviction and power. Nothing is flat or unfeeling, nothing is complicated or strenuous to interpret.
Beyond its simplistic ideals, Hamilton is a history lesson that conveys that age old thought that History is often written by men and interpreted from a particular perspective, of either the recipient’s or the writer, it doesn’t much matter about the facts, its all about the interpretation from the different players. It is whatever we want it to be- the eye of the beholder. Whilst Mr Miranda does not alter the cause of history he draws from the lessons that thread the past and weaves together present, to cloak the future in ideals of a brave new world. It is also a lesson in a test of human wills and moral fibre. When push comes to shove, what will men chose to withstand and what is expendible and at what cost? How will the generation after us see us and our actions? How will they learn from us? What do we teach and what can we learn? History often repeats itself because we as humans are predisposed to making the same mistakes and not learning from it.
Alexander Hamilton starts off principled, a man with big ideas, naive at times but with a bright and shining future ahead of him. He wants to change the world and he is going to make sure he takes his shot, every chance he gets, to make sure he leaves a lasting legacy. As principled as he is, Hamilton is not without his flaws, he is after all human and prey to foibles of humankind. He finds the world is not as he sees it or thinks it to be, and has to adapt to its ways. And then there are matters of the heart. Burr is the protagonist here and much as I struggled to hate him there was something about his character that made it impossible to do so, a man whose moral superiority to Hamilton leaves him suffering the worst of human errors; jealousy chief amongst them. This jealousy would lead him to do the worst. But even so…
Immigrants. We get the job done.
The women in this show really stand out, from the background actors to the main characters. My favourite was Angelica Schyler, sister-in-law to Hamilton who regrets that decision but thank goodness does not let me down by being a cliché (thank you Mr Miranda!), played by Rachel John, she is nothing but a show stopper, her voice and presence leave us only wanting more. But my favourite character besides Hamilton, happens to be Lafayette. He was such a joy to watch, his sharp wit, oh so french ways and the slickest comedic timing of any character. When he said the line “Immigrants, we get the job done” the whole theatre erupted into cheers. This also happens to be one of the most, if not the most, important line in the play. Here is a play that acknowledges, celebrates and centres the roles of immigrants in the construction of America. Skin colour whilst central to the theme, was not a cause for pause… you know what I mean? It did not need an explanation or thousand words think pieces on it, because this is a story of immigration and the roots of it, embedded in the story of how the free world came to be because of immigrants. Hamilton himself is an immigrant who arrived the shores of America at the age of fifteen and would excel and rise through the ranks to become one of the founding father, (aide to George Washington) soldier, economist amongst other roles and ultimately the saviour of a new nation which he helped gain independence from British rule.
Hamilton is the whole package, with a knack for delving into clinical topics without being clinical in delivery, senate hearings which quickly become epic musical delivery of rap and symphony battles, never mind that we are being schooled in American policy and matters of economic recovery. It takes us from battle in the senate chambers to gun battles in New Jersey acted in slow motion with frames capturing the moment we can see coming but are not quite ready for.
Hamilton is all the hype and substance that has preluded its arrival to the UK. It is punchy and surreal, funny and educational. It is encapsulating and will leave you woke as all the fucks. Its wholesome and hopeful. Even with the nauseatingly positive message that anyone can change the world, not just their own little corner of it, it is uplifting and special.
Hamilton is quite simply, the greatest show on earth.