In a political musical where a “bastard orphan” is relentlessly trying to make himself heard – amidst the shouting of other loud-mouthed figures – I was a little disappointed that Jamael Westman’s Alexander Hamilton was hard to hear over everyone else.
But this is the only really negative thing that I have to say about the British performance of Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre. I’ll tell you, right off the bat, that I loved the performance.
And I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for the original American cast, so I feared that no one could come close to matching the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, etc. But I should have known better than to think that anything to do with Hamilton would be less than incredible.
I can’t sing enough praises for the chorus. Yes, that’s right, not one particular main actor (although they were all outstanding) but the collective group who supported them. A chorus is an extremely important part of any dramatic piece, but I’d never really appreciated before how much a chorus can add to the experience as a whole. They were entrancing to watch, particularly with their dancing, but their added expressionism was amazing. I often found myself watching what Random American Soldier was doing in the back, or how Party Guest Number Four was moving along the side of the stage. This is not to say that the main cast didn’t hold my attention – they absolutely did – but the chorus put so much life and passion into their parts, that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.
I won’t go through every main actor/actress and their pros and cons: you should go and watch the performance to form your own opinions. But I will highlight some of my main impressions and praises. As I said before, Westman’s Hamilton was a portrayal that I struggled to bond with. He has an incredible voice, and injected a humour into Hamilton that I hadn’t considered before, but I felt that there was a lack of fire. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton struck me to be a runaway train: he’s got so many incredible ideas and ambitions that he can’t keep them in, and they’re bursting out in everything that he says and does. Westman was much more resigned – he had moments of passion but they were few and far between, and he often seemed shy and unsure of himself, which is the one thing that Hamilton is not. Having said that, I also think that Westman’s reserved nature added something more to It’s Quiet Uptown. He seemed truly lost and ungrounded, not knowing where he stood in the world, or whether he was following the right course. I thought Westman brought an excellent tone to that song, which even the great Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t quite capture.
Allyson Ava-Brown as Angelica Schuyler was brilliant. As she is my favourite character, I had an added investment in wanting this performance to thrive, and Ava-Brown certainly delivered. Renee Elise Goldsberry is an amazing Angelica, in every way possible, but Ava-Brown accentuated some of her traits further, and it worked really, really well. She was a lot more sassy than the original Angelica – which, of course, I loved – and a little bit more in love with Hamilton, with lots of throwaway looks, and reaching for him. My only qualm with this was that I felt that it changed the tone of The Reynolds Pamphlet, a bit – when Angelica returns to New York in Act 2, Ava-Brown seemed to focus on how she is still pining for Hamilton, rather than her resolute loyalty to Eliza. This meant that she didn’t come across as furious as one might have expected, which seemed to contradict her previous actions. But this is a very minor detail that definitely did not detract from Ava-Brown’s portrayal of Angelica; she was fantastic.
I’m going to be a teeny bit controversial for hardcore Hamilton fans, now: I don’t like the King George songs. They’re hilarious, and I love the idea that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote them as a love ballad, and Jonathan Groff is a sweetheart, but the songs themselves? They’re not the ones you want to sing along to, and they get boring after a while. I’ve listened to the Hamilton soundtrack SO many times that I knew when these songs were coming up, and I remembered how I’d always skipped them, if I could. BUT I’d forgotten how much theatre can bring to a musical, and I was promptly reminded of it by Jon Robyns. His King George was sublime – an excellent vocal range, which equally matched that of Jonathan Groff – and, again, it’s all in the detail, because it was his little gestures that brought so much to the character and made me laugh, even though I’d heard the jokes before. It was everything from his ‘no mobile phones announcement’ at the beginning, to his mimic of Jefferson’s dancing in The Reynolds Pamphlet. He isn’t meant to be in the song, but his inclusion was hilarious and it further emphasised Hamilton’s feelings of being judged and discredited by the entire world. Even though I’d wager that King George didn’t really give too much thought to some random upstart who handled America’s money.
My favourite testament to the original production, however, was the fact that the main cast is non-white. With the musical being so important in today’s political climate – as well as that of the 1700s – I thought that this was a really important element of the musical, both to Lin-Manuel Miranda personally and Hamilton’s overall meaning. I was really pleased that the British performance was true to the source, and placed an equally high value on racial diversity.
Now, a quickfire review of song performances:
Favourite performances of songs: Alexander Hamilton, The Schuyler Sisters, The Cabinet Battles, We Know, It’s Quiet Uptown.
Least favourite performances of songs: Guns and Ships, Non-Stop, Say No To This.
Overall, I’d give the performance an 8/10, and that’s based on Hamilton terms. If we were judging it by normal terms, it would be a 12/10. But, since it is an adaptation of an existing musical, it must be compared to the original. But Director Thomas Kail’s production is an incredibly succinct, faithful and passionate adaptation of the original Hamilton.
Have you seen the production of Hamilton, British or American? Or do you agree or disagree with my thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think, and discuss it with people, so please leave a comment down below!