You might not be a fan of hip hop. You might not even be a fan of musical theatre. But unless you’ve been living under a pop culture rock for the last 12 months, you’ve surely at least heard about Hamilton.
Winner of 11 Tony Awards – including one for Best Musical – and the recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Hamilton has been selling out performances at Manhattan’s Richard Rodgers Theatre since it opened in August 2015.
Now the show is preparing to roll into the West End (finally!) and UK audiences are set to experience it for themselves. Here we explain why Hamilton should be top of your wish list for 2017.
The music is incredible
Written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also originated the show’s title role), Hamilton draws inspiration from a whole wealth of different musical genres – not least rap and hip hop – all of which can be heard in the show’s varied score.
In the best moments – cabinet meetings reimagined as rap battles, the all-out speed of tracks like Guns and Ships and the time-shifting gloriousness of Satisfied – the rap and hip hop flavours are intoxicating. It often feels like you’re watching the likes of DMX, Twista or Grandmaster Flash, or even something Nicky Minaj or Eminem’s 8 Mile might’ve cooked up, and we’d argue that even the most vitriolic of hip hop haters would be hard-pressed not to be won over by Hamilton’s clever use of tonality and storytelling here.
Alongside this, the show also draws on other influences too. There’s the Beatles medley-inspired sound of King George III’s solos, the soft RnB tones of tracks like Wait For It and Helpless, the barnstorming showstopper The Room Where It Happens, plus all-out musical theatre moments like Burn and the frankly stunning, nine-part fusion of voices on act one closer, Non-Stop.
Cynics might think such variance would leave a show feeling out-of-sorts or disconnected, but the truth is, Miranda’s libretto ends up being such a rich tapestry of music, it’d be impossible to pick out a singular moment that trumps another. And after seeing the show, it’s hard not to be in awe of the author’s musical prowess.
Um, hello, feminism
You’d be forgiven for thinking feminism was a 20th century idiom, but Hamilton posits our hero’s wife Eliza, along with her sisters Angelica and Peggy (remember they lived in 1700s) as incredibly astute characters with their own minds about the American Revolution and the birth of their new nation – and what’s right for them (and women everywhere) in this new era.
The show doesn’t linger on these issues for long – they’re simply not the focus of the narrative – but it’s great to see such a strong trio of female roles in an otherwise largely-male story; and by the end of the show (no spoilers), you’ll understand that Hamilton is as much Eliza’s tale as it is her husband’s.
Still, it’s Angelica’s proposed changes to the Declaration of Independence (midway through the song that introduces us to them) that really resonates – and will have you whooping and cheering in the aisles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident / That all men are created equal / And when I meet Thomas Jefferson / I’m ’a compel him to include women in the sequel!” How’s that for girl power?
It’s a story for our time – and a history lesson – all rolled into one
For the most part, Hamilton is loyal to the eponymous character’s life story. And while some things have been tweaked for dramatic purposes, this essentially means Hamilton is a musical version of a history lesson.
Thankfully the show never feels like a lecture – it’s never preachy or sanctimonious – but instead is nuanced to give audiences a remarkably accessible and accurate(ish) depiction of these characters’ lives; no mean feat for something set over 200 years ago.
The history is hidden away within the core of the music, which unfolds around you to explain and educate. We knew nothing about the man’s life before seeing Hamilton, and yet, just one quick listen to the opening number gives you so much about this man’s life, his history and what you can expect from the show.
Hamilton also manages to show us many themes that resonate as much today as they did in the 1700s – legacy, ambition, regret, friendship – themes which are only going to become more important as we continue our headfirst dive into 2017.
You know the sort of thing we mean and how they’ve manifested themselves in modern culture: the impact of Brexit, the reality of President Trump, ongoing discussions across the world about immigration, freedom of speech, privilege and unity. Somehow, knowingly or not, Hamilton harnesses all of this, and gives audiences a rare piece of theatre that transcends the stage musical.
In many ways, Hamilton is a transformative theatrical experience – and that has only happened a few times in the history of American musicals.
Won’t take our word for it? Try The New Yorker, which called Hamilton “an achievement of historical and cultural reimagining” and said that in Miranda’s telling “the headlong rise of one self-made immigrant becomes the story of America.”