I’ve never really enjoyed musicals, but then this weekend we took a trip en famille to see… Hamilton. and now I must kneel before those involved and praise their genius.
I’m still struggling to process quite how Lin Manuel Miranda (author) packed so much into 27,000 words in less than three hours, or how Thomas Kail (director) got that onto the stage, or how Andy Blankenbuehler (choreographer) made dance seem so natural and integral to the idea of the birth of America or how beautifully Paul Tazewell (costume) dressed the cast. And those were just the obvious arts: Alex Lacamoire’s orchestration, Howell Binkley’s lights and Nevin Steinberg’s sound design meant you felt and saw and heard everyone of those 27,000 words amidst so much else.
Hamilton uses the self-mythologising of Hip-Hop in the same way The Get Down did, but describes not just the birth of hip-hop, but the birth of America. It disregards black or white among its actors, liberally reinterpreting the ethnicity of the original characters, but remains unmistakably an underdog story: from its first words, (‘How does the bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?’) this is about the poor and outcast, the disenfranchised and the unwanted rising up: this is the creation of America. As Alexander and John Laurens (maybe? it was moving so fast) intone to one another midway through: ‘Immigrants: we get the job done.’
This is truth being spoken to power, and not shutting up when power doesn’t listen: choosing to act the giddy fool and getting up in The Man’s grill until he scurries away with his tail between his legs (witness the 2016 booing of vice-president-elect Mike Pence by the audience, and his addressing by the cast afterwards as he tried to slink away).
I might one day try to write a more detailed analysis of Hamilton (which will require a second viewing of the show, something I never thought I’d consider for a musical) but in the three hours I sat there with my mouth open, these were some of the standouts [contains SPOILERS]:
- The line, ‘I’m just like my country – young, scrappy and hungry,’ and the hand gestures accompanying it
- The endlessly inventive use of the concentric rotating stage – particularly the death of Hamilton scene where two of the cast row the body back across the river (it’s the Hudson, but could just as easily have been the Styx)
- The Schuyler sisters coming on like Destiny’s child
- Angelica Schuyler’s song midway through the first half as her sister marries Hamilton while she is in love with him herself; the repetition of the dialogue being utterly transformed as its heard from her perspective (reader, I wept like a child)
- Jason Pennycooke playing Thomas Jefferson as if he was Cab Calloway or Maurice Day – and Tarrin Callender’s big shouldered back-up as James Madison which reminded me of Radio Raheem
- The house of congress rap battle (complete with mic drops) at the start of the second half
- The letters… the constant writing; the scribbling of notes being carried by the performers to their intended recipient and the literal downpour of paper as Hamilton’s despair and endless writing fails to save him and the culmination of that number, where the desk (a board, nothing more) is whirled into position by the dancers as Hamilton sits to write
- The repetition
- Michael Jibson’s brilliantly psychopathic tantrum turn as George III
- The 1940s femme fatale hair and exit lighting of Maria Reynolds
- The hat-tip to Gilbert & Sullivan (George Washington’s describes himself as, ‘the very model of a modern major general’)
- And last but not least, the actors. Chief amongst these being Jamal Westman as Hamilton, capturing the growing uncertainty of age in the second half as events start to batter and tarnish his once undentable self-image.
This is a work of genius which transcends its confines to sit alongside the other greatest works of art ever made. Get a ticket and see it if you can – you may have to wait a while, mind, so I should mention friend Lucy, who scored us the tickets at short notice and who gave us beds for the night (and me a proper hangover the next morning xx).