Hamilton tour review – hit musical starts a new victory lap

The multi-award-winning musical is finally heading across the UK and Ireland

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The csat of Hamilton on tour, © Danny Kaan

It’s nearing a decade since cultural juggernaut Hamilton catapulted creator Lin-Manuel Miranda into stardom with the kind of once-in-a-generation order of magnitude. It’s since established such a hyperventilating fanbase and reputation that it’s practically fireproof against even ballistic criticism. But it doesn’t have to worry, as this new victory lap tour of the country confirms.

Its formidable stature matches the bracing nature of its hyper-speed hip-hop. Genre of choice for telling the contributions of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to the American Revolutionary War, Constitution and treasury. We see him pick up this style at college – an immigrant who learns linguistic dexterity and showmanship as fitting in and holding your own. The Cabinet debates he will have are rap battles – precursors to the duels where they’ll grip pistols like the microphones.

The verbal acrobatics don’t just keep it pacey and contemporary. The syncopated beats of “My Shot” become converted by stamping fists and tankards into an ominous undercurrent that echoes “you’re gonna get shot”. Dancers body-pop like they’re taking hits from bullets refracting through them. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography – immaculately performed – creates a sense of things always in motion as the revolution courses through. The stage revolve presents a whirlwind with him at the centre.

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Maya Britto, Aisha Jawando and Gabriela Benedetti. © Danny Kaan

Its slower moments balance the speed but can’t compete with the electricity. There are also jumpy transitions between scenes, songs and genres, such as the indignation of “Burn” or mournful stillness of John Laurens’ death, back into the bustle of politics in “Non-Stop”. Better at offsetting the tone is Daniel Boys’ strutting, pouting King George, lit in regal purple, drawing out “you” and “own” with his will to retain ownership of his subjects.

Shaq Taylor’s Hamilton shows the strain of his competing legacies – familial and political – his rhythm often halted by doubt on his contemplative, weary face. In “It’s Quiet Uptown” he stands proudly and stoically next to his grieving wife, as though unable to break out of the politician and reach her, before they drift off as funereal silhouettes. Powerfully, there’s something ghostly about seeing the culmination of his life in a montage without any music at all – the silence piercing like the bullet that brought it all to an end.

David Korins’ set also reflects the pressure of progress and revolutionary effort. A balcony gives a literal dimension to Washington’s warning: “history has its eyes on you”. Coiled, dangling and stretched ropes suggest something being hoisted into existence, and the combative tug-of-war tensions he’s always engaged in. A brick wall at the back stands crumbling away and being rebuilt.

Some plot and detail is lost in the dense lyrics. It’s exacerbated by an indecisiveness over being a history lesson or character drama. While his relationship with his son seems a legitimate motivation – “if we lay a strong enough foundation, we’ll pass it on to you” – it doesn’t blend. More cursory are the women, which it tries to counter by inventing (or at least embellishing) a love triangle with his wife’s sister that only reinforces their ancillary roles as love interests. Eliza’s final coda, “I’ve put myself back in the narrative”, doesn’t convince.

Still, it brings its greatest feat: the dazzling “Satisfied”, where melodies somersault and lap over each other as the sister’s feelings rise up, while deft tempo switches convey a revolutionary whirr. Its triumph is also demonstrating a mainstream musical phenomenon can be complex rather than undemanding. Hamilton remains a megaton musical achievement.

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Closed: 24 February 2024