An American Revolution

By Richard Barber

The answer is a resounding yes! All the hype, all the ballyhoo, are indeed justified. In the words of Michelle Obama, ‘Hamilton is simply the best piece of art in any form I have ever seen in my life.’ For Donald Trump, by contrast, the show is ‘highly overrated’, which is surprising given that the Donald hasn’t seen it.
It’s certainly not like anything that’s gone before. Billed as a hip-hop, rap musical, it’s bigger on the latter than the former, the words delivered rat-a-tat at speed. And very clever lyrics they are, too, conveying the unfolding story of Alexander Hamilton (Jamael Westman), one of America’s founding fathers whose face can still be seen on the $10 bill.

A penniless immigrant from the Caribbean who fetched up in New York on the eve of the American Revolution, Hamilton rose to become President George Washington’s right-hand man and the first Secretary of the Treasury, meeting his premature end aged 47 in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. 

Inspired by author Ron Chernow’s 800-page 2004 biography, Lin-Manuel Miranda has conceived and executed something hugely original – a cast dressed in clothes appropriate for the mid-18th century but in a  vehicle whose language and pace are entirely contemporary. None of them look much like the marble statues of the men they’re portraying – Madison, Jefferson, Lafayette, and so on. For a start, they’re mostly black or  Hispanic (although none appeared in the Broadway original). Then, when they open their mouths, they speak the urgent street talk of the 21st century, combining it with elegant phrases from momentous political documents like Washington’s Farewell Address.

At the centre of it all is lofty Jamael Westman, not long out of drama school and still only 25, who manages to convey both poise and presence. He has an eye for the ladies, one of whom, Eliza (Rachelle Ann Go), he marries; one of whom, her sister Angelica (Rachel John), he toys with; and another of whom, Maria Reynolds (Christine Allado), he embarks on a ruinous affair with.

Throughout it all, he’s shadowed by his political rival, Burr, whom Giles Terera endlessly invests with craft and cunning; he also sings like a dream. A shout-out, too, for Michael Jibson’s ridiculous, foppish King George III in the funniest turn of the night. The wonder of it all is that Miranda wrote the whole caboodle: lyrics, book and music. The man’s a magician.

Hamilton is at Victoria Palace until 30 June: www.hamilton themusical.co.uk 

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