Lin-Manuel Miranda’s phenomenal smash-hit Hamilton is currently taking Broadway by storm. Thankfully UK audiences won’t not need to wait for long, because Hamilton is now confirmed to be coming to London in 2017.
But the even better news is that London audiences can already get a taste of Miranda’s genius with the stunning In The Heights, now showing at the King’s Cross Theatre, and booking until October. In The Heights is incredibly deserving of praise in its own right – and we previously reviewed the show right here – but having had the privilege of seeing both In The Heights and Hamilton already, we take a look at how you can use London’s coolest musical as a primer for what is set to be next year’s sure-fire big-hitter.
1. Using hip hop to tell a story
Historically, hip hop and rap music haven’t been considered as the go-to genres for musical theatre, but with both In The Heights and Hamilton, Miranda employs the techniques of these genres to incredibly impressing effect. Whether you know a little or a lot about hip hop, there’s one thing you probably do know, and that’s that, lyrically, it be a incredible storyteller – so to use this genre to drive a narrative story on stage actually makes total sense, right?
It also makes both shows feels incredible modern, fresh and new. With In The Heights, this works with the modern-day setting perfectly, and the barrio story really feels like you’re living among the people on the streets of NYC – it feels very real, raw and emotional; with Hamilton, the juxtaposition of this musical genre and the show’s period setting is just sheer perfection, it’s practically like modern-day Shakespeare.
2. The layering of voices
Miranda likes to add voice-upon-voice to ramp up the drama during songs. This is probably no more effective than in act one closers Non-Stop and Blackout respectively. In both, Miranda reintroduces lines, flicks and licks, and entire verses from other numbers that we’ve already heard throughout the opening chunk of the show: these narratives are stories we’ve become invested in, sung by people we’re really beginning to care about, and the redeployment of these lines – now, invariably, performed in a different context – redefine what we are learning, and set us up for the changes we’ll see in the second act.
Miranda’s song-writing is incredibly clever under close scrutiny. Numbers blend together and segue from one to another without rest, giving an overall fluidity and grace to the whole piece that probably hasn’t been matched in musical theatre since, probably, Sondheim.
3. A strong-minded woman
It’s surely fair to say Miranda is something of a feminist? Both In The Heights and Hamilton feature incredibly strong female characters, an especially powerful trope for Hamilton given the period it is in set in, when women’s rights were a mere afterthought.
In The Heights is full of notable females roles, but possibly none more interesting than Daniela and Camilla. Salon owner Daniela is a sheer joy to watch, dealing out sass and attitude to those around her (No Me Diga is a particular highlight of the show), while Camilla’s epic meltdown, Enough, is a tour de force moment, and goes a long way to foreshadow the future characterisation of the iconic Schuyler sisters in Hamilton, who go on to form the emotional backbone of Miranda’s new show.
4. The need of a legacy
Our heroes in each show – the titular Alexander Hamilton and bodega owner Usnavi in In The Heights – dream of leaving a legacy behind them.
In Hamilton, Alexander’s dreams are certainly grander than Usnavi’s (who just wants to make good on the continuing his family business and have a decent life), but as both men sing about leaving something after they’ve gone (“And it’s all about the legacy/ They left with me, it’s destiny” sings Usnavi in In The Heights’ opening number), it isn’t a huge leap to see how a more humble story of a man looking to make good on his promises developed into exploring something much bigger for Hamilton – and what’s a bigger than the story of one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America?
There’s also a nice irony that both shows have the beating heart of a leaving something behind, and that Miranda himself has left such a rich legacy of his own (already) with these two incredible shows.
5. The joy of an ensemble cast
In The Heights is as much about Usnavi as it is about the people around him: “Abuela” Claudia, Benny, Carla, Daniela, Nina, Kevin, Camila, Sonny, Vanessa… it’s a true ensemble piece. Remarkably, even with such a rich cast of characters, this works; you care about all of them, their quirks and foibles, and the stories that drive them through the show. No one gets side-lined, and everyone feels well-rounded and fully formed.
It’s a neat trick Miranda repeats in Hamilton. In anyone else’s hands, a musical about Alexander Hamilton’s life could easily have been a straight-laced biopic (there’s so much interest in his life alone), but Miranda lets the show be as much about the supporting cast as it is about the man himself. What’s especially clever is that this supporting cast include characters as powerful as the first ever US President, George Washington, and other notable folk from US history (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Marquis de Lafeyette), and, of course, Aaron Burr, who (SPOILER ALERT!) shoots Hamilton in the end.
To embrace all of these strands and allow focus to shift from Hamilton’s own story and let other characters (especially Burr and Hamilton’s wife, Elisa) really shine is both brave and brilliant storytelling. The feeling you can look forward to at the end of Hamilton (and it really is utterly joyous) is easily matched with In The Heights’ finale too, when the whole cast unite for that anthemic final number (pictured above).
You can book tickets for In The Heights at the King’s Cross Theatre here. Hamilton is due to arrive at London’s Victoria Palace Theatre from October 2017.