Hamilton review – Victoria Palace Theatre, London

Welcome back – 2023 was quite a ride wasn’t it? It’s hard to believe this is first feature of 2024!

We’re taking a look at the must-see shows in London right now. Both of our previous features, Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre and Phantom of the Opera at the newly monikered His Majesty’s Theatre, took Broadway by storm when they opened there.

This week’s production started life off-Broadway where it was a sold-out hit before making its stunning debut on Broadway, earning itself a record-breaking sixteen Tony Award nominations and winning eleven, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Choreography.

Since then its transferred to the West End, toured extensively – its debut UK tour opened earlier this month – and made it Disney+. Say hello to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s critically acclaimed Hamilton.

Hamilton Review – Victoria Palace Theatre, London

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton was a box office sensation when it landed in New York in 2015, initially off-Broadway before a Broadway transfer that saw it receive a record-breaking sixteen Tony Award nominations, winning eleven. The West End transfer was no different – opening in December 2017 it garnered rave reviews and took home seven Olivier Awards from its ten nominations.

The production explores the life of United States of America Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, played by Miranda himself in the original off-Broadway and Broadway runs and now played by Declan Spaine in the West End. It is as much about the early history of the United States, from the American Revolution into the creation of the federation and its early statehood, as it is about Hamilton’s relationship with two key figures in his life; Aaron Burr (Simon-Anthony Rhoden), his political rival and the man who shot him (not a spoiler), and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler (Shan Ako).

Shan Ako and Declan Spaine. Photo: Danny Kaan.

It’s an immaculately detailed study of the long and complicated gestation of the new federation of states. Though it has intensely interesting touch points, the American Revolution, the Civil War, duels and blackmail, there is a risk that so much of these things, and the context for them, needs to be explained within the musical for the story to make sense to audiences who do not know the history; thereby drowning us in detail. The beauty of Miranda’s work is that he manages not only to avoid this but those moments of context are so interestingly delivered onto us that you don’t even realise it’s happening. Framing cabinet battles as rap battles is a master stoke, while What’d I Miss? sets up the entirety of the political context for the second act.

In the current London cast, Spaine and Ako stand out, as does Rhoden’s compelling Burr who is full of grit and jealousy and Ava Brennan who delivers a wise and knowing performance as Elizabeth’s sister Angelica. In the supporting cast, Lemuel Knights is noteworthy, playing the dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson – his rapping is the most impactful.

Dom Hartley-Harris as George Washington. Photo: Danny Kaan

Spaine captures a contradiction in Hamilton; driven and outwards, inclined to speak too much but somehow measured at the same time, despite his fire. Ako’s clear voice soars and lifts the glorious Helpless to new heights and adds new power to Burn. Joel Montague plays up the comedy of King George III, though while entertaining it loses some of the viciousness of Jonathan Groff’s Broadway take on the character. Here the King is more a bumbling jealous child than a dangerous one, but even that is a minor point.

The choreography is performed energetically and powerfully by an ensemble that doesn’t let up for the play’s 2 hours and 45 minutes. It matches the music, a mix of hip-hop, R&B, pop and a traditional musical style (there’s even a hint of Les Miserables in The Story of Tonight), which feels like it is constantly driving forward, much like Hamilton’s ambitions.

It seems unlikely that Hamilton is going to disappear from the West End anytime soon; almost exactly six years after it opened, it remains a near sell-out hit at the Victoria Palace Theatre – and rightly so; this is still one of the most exciting things to see on a London stage.

Rating: ★★★★★

Hamilton is currently booking to 28 September 2024