In a repeat of its Broadway opening two years ago, Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton opened Thursday night at London’s newly restored Victoria Palace Theatre, sending critics into paroxysms of superlatives and a general sense that a Revolution capable of producing such a work was worth the loss of the colonies.
For the occasion, Miranda and the cast created a mashup video incorporating everything from the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to songs from the show. The video was presented as a UK version of “Ham4Ham,” the wildly popular free brief shows that the company presented outside Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre to hopeful crowds looking to score a pair in the sold-out musical’s daily lottery.
Most of the critics were wowed by the show’s integration of rap and hip-hop with conventional, if superbly fashioned, Broadway razzmatazz in telling the story of Alexander Hamilton. As we now know, Hamilton was, until recently, best known for his visage on the $10 bill but has been transformed into the heroic Founding Father: An immigrant who “got the job done” after making himself indispensable to General, and later President George Washington, writing most of the seminal Federalist papers that explained the new nation, and creating a unified monetary system before his death in a duel with his nemesis, Aaron Burr. The critics even seemed to abide the show’s hilariously unkind portrayal of King George III as a preening dolt.
“What’s brilliant about the show is its scintillating fusion of form and content,” wrote Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times. “Miranda sticks closely to historical fact and musical tradition, but reframes and reclaims both, first by focusing on Alexander Hamilton, an impoverished, visionary immigrant; second by splicing musical theatre conventions with hip-hop, R&B and pop. It gives the show phenomenal drive, as befits a group of young men improvising a future, spinning a new country into being with their words, surfing history as they might ride a beat.”
Michael Billington, of the Guardian, wrote that “Miranda’s music and lyrics combine two things that rarely go together: political passion and nimble wit. Hamilton early on tells us: ‘I’m just like my country. I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot.’…The outstanding number, however, is Burr’s ‘The Room Where It Happens.’ This takes a politically complex subject: the secret deal in which Hamilton accepted the idea of Washington DC as the nation’s capital in exchange for federal control over the debts accrued by the separate states. Miranda turns it into a number of rapidly accelerating momentum about Burr’s desire to be in the room at the time of the deal – and about the mystery of history. The song, referencing ‘Someone in a Tree’ from Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, shows Miranda’s deep roots in America’s musical past….the funniest performance [is] Jibson’s George III – played as a figure of ineffable absurdity [who] surveys the political infighting after Washington’s resignation with unholy relish. Crying: ‘Jesus Christ, this will be fun!’ he jigs as if, under all the royal regalia, he were a closeted rocker.”
And The Mirror‘s Mikey Smith summed up the craze nicely with, “Sell everything you own to get your hands on a ticket. You won’t regret it.”
Hamilton is produced in London by Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman, The Public Theater and Cameron Mackintosh. Mackintosh also is the principal in Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, which owns eight West End houses, including the Victoria Palace.