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Hamilton review – the rise and fall of a scrappy orphan who shaped America

Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Hamilton, a huge critical and box-office success in America, arrives in London, having won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre.

Victoria Palace, built by famed theatre architect Frank Matcham in 1911, has been rebuilt, renovated and refurbished for its much-hyped British premiere.

Hamilton is about the founding of the United States and concentrates on the rise and fall of one founding father in particular, Alexander Hamilton, leader of the Federalist Party.

The book, music and lyrics are by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and lyricist of In the Heights. Miranda also played the leading role on Broadway.

The show, based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, is entirely sung through. The score blends rap, hip-hop, jazz and R&B. The rap gives the narrative its driving force. But it isn’t all rap. There’s Broadway musical theatre and heartrending ballads, too. The singing is very impressive.

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), an orphan immigrant from the West Indies, became George Washington’s right-hand man during the War of Independence. The first act covers the revolution and the expulsion of the British. The second is about Hamilton’s personal and political life. As Secretary to the Treasury, he secured the country’s finances and was instrumental in establishing the US in its present political form.

The cast is multicultural and what makes the musical special is that all the famed politicians are played by black actors. Jamael Westman is Hamilton, tall, proud, intelligent and very articulate. “I’m just like my country,” he says. “I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I am not throwing away my shot.”

Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s boyhood friend and nemesis, is played by Giles Terera, who also acts as narrator. Obioma Ugoala is George Washington. Jason Pennycooke doubles as Lafayette and Jefferson. The actors are excellent.

The women in Hamilton’s life include his neglected wife (Rachel Ann Go), his wife’s sister and his mistress (Rachel John) and Maria (Christine Allado), a sex scandal, which caused his downfall

King George III is a joke and played for farce by Michael Jibson, who gets lots of laughs.

Thomas Kail’s production and Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography keep the show moving at an urgent and vigorous pace. The ensemble’s highly distinctive movement and body language create images which are constantly fascinating.

Hamilton is well worth seeing. The performance lasts 2 hours 50 minutes including interval.

If you are looking for a pantomime to see over the festive season, easily the best and most spectacular I have ever seen is Dick Whittington with Julian Clary (synonymous with innuendo) and Elaine Page at the London Palladium.

Hamilton is at Victoria Palace, London, until June 30