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REVIEW - Hamilton is the real deal. Believe the hype and experience it for yourself!

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On Tuesday, we were one of the lucky ones to be invited to the press night of Hamilton. Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about one of the biggest productions to hit the city in many years...


The Hamilton Hype is here and will have you hooked!  Whatever you’ve heard, whatever you’ve seen of the recording on Disney+, dial up your expectations tenfold and you will still be blown away, mesmerised and in complete awe of this groundbreaking musical.  This is not a show that people went gaga for simply because it dared to rebel and break the mould with hip hop and rap – if that were the case, it would have grown old already.  No, this is a show that intelligently blends the best of a multitude of genres from musical theatre, to R&B, hip hop, rap, jazz funk, and hypnotically uses each and every breath, syllable and nuance to heighten it’s storytelling, pull you in, dangle it’s carrot, and leave you gasping for breath with ecstatic wonderment and overwhelming emotion. Hamilton knows exactly who it is as a show and understands how to wrap you around it’s trigger finger.  So, I’m just going to call it, Lin Manuel Miranda is a living legend and a genius.  He has successfully created a lifelong relationship between the emotive nature of musical theatre and the gripping drama and intensity of hip hop.  Neither genre bows to the other.  Instead, they support, cajole, and intertwine like old friends.




This show already has a huge fan base, and interestingly for many, it is from the music alone as they haven’t been able to make a trip to London to see it.  Therefore, the fact that this UK tour has chosen Manchester as it first British home outside of London is an honour, and had the theatre packed out with VIP’s, celebrities, and fans alike, and when you hear a rumour that Sir Cameron Macintosh himself is in the building, you can only hope and wish it is true and appreciate just what a big deal this is.

Miranda has truly created a masterpiece, with momentum building and pulsating with every adrenaline fuelled beat of your heart.  The best tip I was given before I saw it for the first time was to read up on the story before you watch it, and I am passing it on because it was invaluable advice.  It is not that the story is over complicated, but is kudos to the amount of information packed in due to the immaculate speed of delivery from the hip hop and rap elements.  It is a powerful art form that is utilised to maximum effect, and knowing what is going on beforehand takes the pressure off your brains ability to keep up, allowing you to be in the moment and enjoy.  As the show opens, we are introduced to key historical characters telling us who Hamilton was, and their part in his story.  It is a formidable opening and demands your respect and admiration.  The theatre erupted after just one number and there was a magnitude of electricity in the air.  This was the first of my emotional responses, and believe me, it didn’t end there.




So who was Alexander Hamilton and why was he so intriguing that Miranda decided to write an entire musical about him?  Well, in short, he emigrated to America in 1772 from the Caribbean as an orphaned teenager with nothing to his name but his intelligence, beliefs, and the gift of the gab that made people listen to what he had to say.  He embarked upon a journey that led him to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States Of America.  It’s the platinum version of a real-life rags to riches story.  Upon arriving in New York, Hamilton meets Aaron Burr, Hercules Mulligan, Marquis de Lafayette and John Laurens.  It isn’t long before Hamilton ignites a jealousy in his comrade Burr, when he is asked to be General George Washington’s secretary – a role that Burr had requested for himself.  Then one night, Hamilton meets the Schuyler sisters.  He has an instant connection with Angelica, but as Eliza confesses her own feelings for Hamilton to her sister, Angelica backs away as best she can, leaving Hamilton free to marry Eliza.  As Eliza falls pregnant, Hamilton finds himself dismissed from Washington’s inner circle due to aiding a duel in his name. 




Hamilton and Burr become Lawyers where Hamilton is prominent in writing some papers to convince people that a new constitution is needed.  Now President, Washington hires him again, this time to be in charge of the Governments money but Jefferson questions Hamilton, accusing him of spending too much.  As deals are done, decisions about the country’s new capital are made, and new banks are agreed upon, Burr rages with jealousy as Hamilton is yet again given privileges he isn’t.  Burr will go to any lengths to get “in the room where it happens,” and so joins the emerging Democratic-Republican group.  Washington is famously the only US President not to belong to a political group and it was around this time that divisions started to creep in.  With family tragedy’s awaiting him, and accusations blinding him from every angle, Hamilton is left desolate and bereft.    


In a twist of fate, Burr and Jefferson campaign against each other to be president and ask Hamilton who he pledges his allegiance with.  He states neither are worthy but that even though he doesn’t agree with Jefferson’s beliefs, at least he HAS beliefs.  Jefferson is made President and whilst he is supposed to have the runner up, Burr, as his Vice President, he doesn’t want him and so asks Hamilton.  Yet again, Burr is made to feel second best to Hamilton and so challenges him to a duel.  And that is where I end the story.  I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself.




The costumes and staging of Hamilton are amongst the many things that give this show its own style and character.  Minimalistic, with stylised movement where a bullet is depicted by a performer creating its path visually out of thin air, and chairs, tables and barrels are an integral part of the choreography.  It is purposeful and creates something iconically modern out of history.  Costumes are period based, but again, often with a modern twist, allowing undergarments such as breeches, waistcoats, and corsets to create iconic looks.  These choices make this entangling, historical story accessible.  We listen to what we see, allowing us to understand, immediately taking this show out of the classroom and into our hearts.  Lighting resonates with the beats of the music and the detail of the story, drenching the stage red in the blood of the fallen one minute, then playfully joking and turning it blue to match lyrics the next.  The set is carved out of wood, with a balcony etching its way along the back and around the side of the stage, opening up into pathways where actors come to listen, join in, and utilise every curve available to them.  This additional level is utilised throughout and integrated into choreography, so for instance the delivery of a letter can be swung up, passed across via a dancer poised in mid-air courtesy of a suspended lift, and styled across its winding pathways in a variety of methods.  Speaking of the choreography, it is charged, kinetic, and so extra that I am struggling to do it justice.  The dancers speak through dance, they breathe through each movement and they are the bridge we need.  This is some of the best choreo I have ever seen, that can start with solo zapping isolations and end with an entire cast belting out the tightest synchronised beats, flips, jumps, and the most balletic form of hip hop I have ever seen.  Everything compliments everything else, with the music building to dizzying crescendos as the lights zap your mind.  The dance achieves the impossible and the words from the actors just keep tumbling out without ever dropping a single sound.  It is like nothing else out there.  It really does stand alone and the authentic and palpable reactions from the audience after each outstanding number is testament to what I am trying to express.  Sometimes, you just have to experience it because it has an indescribable life force of its own.     




How to even start talking about this unstoppable cast and creative team?  It is other worldly in its achievements.  They are just so damn sleek and cool that you kind of get a little taste of Burrs jealousy when he says he wants to be in the room where it happens, because you want to be a part of their vibe.  Shaq Taylor (Beauty & The Beast, Hex, JCS) as Hamilton has the crisp clean clarity and articulation to fire the rapid, rhymical beats off of his tongue with enviable ease.  It is hypnotic and utterly spellbinding.  He shows us exactly who Hamilton is, flaws and all, with his portrayal of a gritty determination served with a side of intellectual arrogance, and enough charm to win over any doubters.  He is jaw droppingly sensational, and is evenly matched by Sam Oladeinde (Assassins, Come From Away, The Prince Of Egypt) as Aaron Burr.  What is even more incredible is that Oladeinde is a Bonafede qualified solicitor in real life too!  Some people are just too talented.  He rips the stage to pieces as Burr, leaving no beat unturned, no emotion untapped, and we see his dismay and envy of Hamilton increase to a tumultuous conclusion.  Both scatter a multitude of emotions across the stage like confetti, from a testosterone fuelled debate, to vulnerability.




Charles Simmons as George Washington exudes power from the moment he steps onto the stage and you know this is a President in the making.  He is commanding, collected and has a beautiful voice to ensure his messages are heard and understood.  Billy Nevers as Lafayette and Jefferson sets the stage alight with his personality, energy and swagger.  He is an explosion of energy and his vocal battles with Hamilton as Jefferson are something to behold.  KM Drew Boateng as Mulligan and Madison is equally solid in both roles and delivers everything from humour to honour with a performance chiselled to perfection.   Daniel Boys as King George gets an eruption of anticipation from the audience simply by stepping onto the stage, and he does not disappoint.  Spoilt, petulant, tyrannical, his big musical theatre belter is deliciously kept on his own tight reign of restraint, just long enough to keep the audience almost begging for those “dah da dah da diyyyyyyy’s” and lapping up every ounce of his superb comic timing.  The delivery was devilishly perfect. DeAngelo Jones as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton is vivacious and vibrant, particularly as Philip, where moments later, he is able to reduce you to tears.

Maya Britto flies as Eliza, taking her from a young and naive rich girl to a broken woman who suffers more heartache than one should ever endure.  Britto pushes further still to wholly impact us with a maturity and strength that she brings to Eliza at the end of the show, guiding us through her story with clarity and skilled acting every step of the way.  Aisha Jawando as Angelica is feisty, fierce and wow she has a set of pipes, then completely flips style and does some immense rap at breakneck speed.  She quite simply takes your breath away.  Gabriela Benedetti as Peggy Schuyler has some cracking facial expressions and deadpan deliveries to carve out her own unique and illuminating Schuyler sister.  Her vocals are really stunning when she reappears as Maria Reynolds.



Hamilton
is not only informative, smart, and sassy, it is funny too.  Lin Manuel Miranda has ticked every box, so whether you like to laugh, cry, be intellectual stimulated, educated, or just be entertained, Hamilton will do all the above and then some.  Gut wrenching ballads, such as ‘It’s Quiet Uptown,’ nestle against the funk jazz sounds of ‘The Room Where It Happened.’  The adrenaline fuelled ‘My Shot’ couldn’t be further away in style from the brilliantly over the top ‘You’ll Be Back,’ and songs such as ‘Alexander Hamilton’ educate whilst ‘Helpless’ emotes.  It is fascinating to behold and keeps you entirely besotted.  The show finishes with a bittersweet poignancy, asking how will we be remembered when we are gone, that’s if we are remembered at all.  Who will tell our story and will they do it justice?  We see how grief and death enabled Eliza to emerge from the shadow of her unstoppable husband and be unstoppable herself, but did anyone ever get taught her story in their history lessons?  And our parting shot from Mr. Aaron Burr is that the world was actually wide enough for both for them.  It needn’t have ended this way.  This message needs to be heard.  The world is big enough for both sides of the story, of every story.  With a show that holds immigrants place, worth, and culture at its heart, it felt more powerful than ever tonight, with a huge explosion of support for the dynamic line “Immigrants – we get the job done.”  The amount of detail and genius in this show can be revisited time and time again for there is so much to sink your teeth into, it really is the gift that keeps on giving.  There is no doubt about why Hamilton is such a hit, and it isn’t one of those things that people say just because it's the latest fashion.  Hamilton is the real deal, so believe me when I say, you’ve gotta be in the room where it happens.  Click boom!


WE SCORE HAMILTON...




Hamilton is on at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday 24th February.

BUY TICKETS TO SEE HAMILTON





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