Dramatic, emotional, evocative. Electrifying. Triumphant. That is Hamilton, as good a musical as has appeared on stage. That’s right. Nothing yet seen can or has bettered it. The story is woven into the music, often delivered at breakneck speed and we are taken on a journey of discovery. Hip hop predominates, but everything from R&B to pop, soul and traditional show tunes are on show. Couple that with flawlessly choreographed dance sequences. I have so much admiration for the man who wrote the book and composed the music with lyrics. He was inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. No wonder Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize winner, Tony Award winner, Olivier Award winner, not to overlook gongs at the Grammys and Emmys.
Alexander Hamilton (11th January, 1755 – 12th July, 1804) rose from poverty to become an influential figure in US politics, a Founding Father no less. A penniless immigrant from the Caribbean, his father deserted him and his mother died when he was 12, so Hamilton had to find a way to survive. With a towering intellect and the gift of the gab, he was never afraid of speaking his mind. In fact, he revelled in doing so. At age 19, he befriended a man named Aaron Burr, who would become his adversary – a man with whom he would lock horns on countless occasions and who would grow to resent Hamilton. Burr would rise to the position of US vice president. Hamilton’s notoriety grew during the American War of Independence when he became George Washington’s right-hand man.
King George III was supremely confident he had the forces to defend territory. In the musical he is presented as an arrogant and vindictive narcissist who loved power and control. After the war, both Hamilton and Burr went on to become lawyers. Hamilton accepted a position as the first Secretary of the Treasury. That resulted in a series of ding dong battles with the first Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. A couple of head-to-head rap contests between the pair, initiated by President Washington, present as verbal jousting at its finest. Hamilton had earlier married into a wealthy family, but that union was not without its difficulties. All this and much more is explored in Hamilton, the musical.
Hamilton explodes onto the stage from its opening salvo. It presents a captivating first number, during which we learn about Hamilton’s formative years. The dynamite script adds layers as each song gives us more of the Hamilton story as well as providing insight into those tumultuous times. Tension is the name of the game and Hamilton is inevitably at the centre of it, never backing away from a fight. The musical showcases those who played a significant role in his life, drawing out their strengths and peccadilloes. The music is magnificent – often bold and brash and uplifting, but not without moments of tenderness.
The cast is as polished and assured as it could possibly be – uniformly strong through a total of 34 numbers (17 in each act). The “competition” between Aaron Burr (Lyndon Watts) and Alexander Hamilton (Jason Arrow) is matched by their vocal prowess in this musical. The scene stealer is Brent Hill as the uppity King George, who generates a rousing reception when he parades onto the stage carrying a sceptre, resplendent in regal red, gold and white fur. The single stage design, dominated by solid wood, brick and rope, presents a sense of place. The costumes – elaborate and colourful – capture the period. Hamilton is a masterful work – innovative and mesmerising. I was fortunate enough to see it in Sydney and I assure you I was just as captivated second time around. I urge you to buy a ticket. Do not miss it. Two hours 50 minutes, including a 20-minute interval, Hamilton is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Hamilton (Lyric Theatre) – musical theatre review
- Hamilton (Disney +) – streaming review
- 21 Chump Street (Chapel Off Chapel) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.