Sunday, 17 April 2016

Review: Hamilton, Richard Rodgers Theatre

“I’m crossing the ocean and I just can’t wait”

Where to begin? Could anyone have expected the phenomenal success of Hamilton? Turning into the biggest Broadway hit of an age, accepting invitations to the White House, reinventing day queue culture, being the subject of made-up scandals, winning Grammys, all while radically challenging traditional notions of musical theatre. The build up of such hype has been thrilling to see but also poses questions like 'could it really possibly be that good?'. And 'how on earth does one get tickets for find out for oneself?'.

In short, the answers are yes and by booking months ahead in my case. I deliberately hadn't listened to the original cast recording when it was released as I wanted to experience it for the first time on stage and knowing full well that I would get to see it one way or another, I also denied myself any of the multifarious online offerings so that the first I saw of Hamilton would be as the curtain rose at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. And I have to say the anticipation and delayed gratification was completely worth it - that said, I've struggled to write about the show in a satisfactory way ("I will never be satisfied...") so treat this as an outpouring rather than a review.

Miranda's blend of musical styles may be familiar to those who have seen In the Heights but here he takes it even further, transplanting this utterly contemporary approach to music onto a historical narrative and thoroughly invigorating them both with an amazing sense of alchemy. So the story of the founding fathers creating the United States, with specific reference to the meteoric rise of Alexander Hamilton from inauspicious beginnings, takes place in a sung-through mixture of contemporary R&B, hip-hop, jazz and blues, as well as a keen sense for a Broadway melody.

Its pretty much impossible to adequately describe how Hamilton made me feel, I mean I get goosebumps even now just thinking about it and how much I loved it and how excited I felt when watching it. And I'd be hard pressed to tell you exactly why. I could point to the moment when Renée Elise Goldsberry's Angelica lets loose a stunning torrent of conflicted heartfelt emotion in 'Satisfied', or the gorgeous harmonies as she and her sister Eliza (Philippa Soo) try to persuade Alexander to take some downtime in 'Take a Break' (my two standout musical moments)

Or Leslie Odom Jr's smooth 'Wait For It' (which feels for anything as if it could have been on Rihanna's latest album) or the striking arrival of 'The Schuyler Sisters' (that bass line...work!) or the sheer magnificence of 'Non-Stop' and its gathering together of so many diverse musical themes into a thunderclap of an Act 1 closer. You get the idea, I pretty much loved it all, its such a densely packed score that it benefits from repeated listens, almost requires it in fact, and each time a new favourite emerges, especially having had a certain few tracks on repeat.

I had Javier Muñoz on for an indisposed Miranda as the zealous Hamilton and he was just on fire, giving us all the shades of a man from nation-building hero and father (I am undone...swoon!) to wife-cheating disappointment, Daveed Diggs’ is highly engaging as Lafayette and Jefferson as is Okieriete Onaodowan’s as Mulligan and Madison. And I was pleased to have caught Jonathan Groff in one of his last performances as King George III, a minor but attention-grabbing role. And in case it wasn't clear, Phillipa Soo and the extraordinary Renée Elise Goldsberry are both fantastic, whether beat-boxing, rapping or singing their hearts out.

Creatively it just rocks too. David Korin's expansive set design is just awesome, lit stunningly by Howell Binkley and Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography sparkles with its infusion of contemporary movement that elevates it into something truly beautiful in all the interrupted shapes it makes. And I've not even touched on the brilliant nature of the show's diversity and what that actually means for an audience in a country where racial relations remain such a hot button topic but also for a traditional theatrical culture that could never have predicted Hamilton's success.

The fact that people are breaking down the doors to see this show might easily be written off as hype, as a knee-jerk reaction for people wanting to see the next new big thing without actually having to think about what they're choosing. But no matter the reasons for that lucky few getting through that door, the reality of them seeing people of colour playing historical figures, who have most likely never been represented as anything but lily-white, marks something that one desperately hopes marks something of a cultural shift or at least the beginnings of one. Naive perhaps, but that's the joy of Hamilton, it makes you believe that that change is possible. 

Being in an audience that vocal, that inspired by what they were seeing onstage was a genuinely tremendous moment in my entire theatregoing life, and then you get that ending! Pretty much damn near perfect both as a piece of storytelling and an indictment of the way society tells its history, again you can only imagine the impact this might have far beyond the Richard Rodgers Theatre. And whilst I'm glad that plans to bring Hamilton over to the West End seem to be moving full steam ahead, I'm even more glad that I got the Broadway experience which complemented the whole thing. This cast is amazing, this show is amazing - I'm helpless, I'm satisfied.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 29th January 2017, at the moment...

 

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