Matt Trueman: the success of Hamilton in London is no dead cert
As the transfer of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning musical is confirmed, Matt Trueman looks at whether the show's staggering success will be repeated in London
If you put your money anywhere else, you're a fool. Hamilton swept every other show away at last night's Tony awards. Of course it did. Out of a potential 13 gongs (from 16 nominations), Lin-Manuel Miranda's mega-musical bounced away with 11 statuettes – one short of the all-time record.
That it didn't quite take those laurels is a pity. It is a complete one-off, way more so than The Producers was back in 2001, but much more than that, it has become an outright cultural phenomenon in its own right – one that reaches way beyond theatre. Miranda himself is everywhere – from the White House's Rose Garden to the front seat of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke. The world's biggest names – Samuel L Jackson and Meryl Streep, Oprah to Obama – have been queueing up for selfies. Jay Z, Beyonce and Bill Gates are fans. According to the Sunday Times, which ran a profile of Miranda this weekend, there are 110 Hamilton-themed SoulCycle classes and 106 different jewellery designs embossed with Hamilton lyrics on Etsy. Hamilton isn't just a hit. People have taken it into their hearts.
Hamilton is unlikely to get that 'America, hell yeah' heart-jump in the West End
On Friday, its producers used the buzz of the Tonys to confirm its London dates. From October 2017 – 465 days and counting – Hamilton will blast out of the refurbished Victoria Palace theatre.
How will it fare over here? It's not a dead cert, by any means, and even Cameron Mackintosh admitted as much. "No one can know how any show can work out," he told the Telegraph yesterday. "All I can say is this is one of the most brilliant and original shows I've seen in a long, long time. How big a success it will be, only time will tell."
The thing is Hamilton is as American as the Statue of Liberty – a retelling of the American War of Independence using a hip-hop score. British audiences aren't taught about the founding fathers at school. We haven't walked about with Alexander Hamilton on our ten-buck bills. Hip-hop hasn't bubbled up from our streets and our subcultures as it did in the States, and its colourblind casting, a reclamation of American history and a reminder that America's heritage is rooted in immigration, won't resonate in quite the same way.
The best thing that producers have done is hold off that transfer
In the Sunday Times piece, Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater in New York, where Hamilton originated, offered a succinct reason for its success. It gave people "a way to feel unabashedly patriotic about America," he said. As the article's author Rachel Syme adds: "It was something around which an increasingly divided nation might come together. And they have."
It's unlikely to get that in the West End – that 'America, hell yeah' heart-jump. Remember the Brits are the bad guys here. We're the ones imposing the Tea Act of 1773. We're the ones in the redcoats, shooting muskets at Lin-Manuel and Co. Will that have an adverse effect? It's probably more universal than that – a rallying call for freedom, little guys against big empire. After all, cheering ‘Vive la Revolution' never really hurt Les Mis…
However, there's no denying that Hamilton has built up the most momentous momentum and the best thing that the producers have done is hold off that transfer. By not rushing across the Atlantic, despite all the early signs pointing towards global success, they have let Hamilton build up a head of steam. Come October 2017, people will be bursting to see it for themselves.
What's more – and this is something no marketing campaign can buy – they will arrive as fans. They won't be sceptics, but converts. They'll turn up with the score already under their belts, as invested as any Potterhead queueing up at the Palace. Even Miranda has already acknowledge the buzz: "The support from our British fans has been incredible," he said in a statement.
The Hamilton cast recording has wracked up almost 150 million plays on Spotify. It's the best selling cast recording of all time. It has a Grammy under its belt, a Pulitzer and now 11 Tony awards to boot. I know people whose kids are hooked on it and, I'll tell you what, it is cat-chy. I sat down for my first listen on Saturday afternoon and, two days later, all I can do is coo ‘I do, I do, I do, I doo-ooh' with bubblegum brio. Helpless, indeed.
In short, the Americans are coming. 465 days and counting…