I downloaded the Hamilton soundtrack in 2016, around one year after it was released. I’d been listening to it for a few months before that, after hearing it when my sister played it in the car on some family car journey or another. So, I was somewhat late to it, but no less a fan once I had discovered it.
It was on Saturday – about four years after the soundtrack’s release and about three after I discovered it – that I finally got to see the performance. Live and in-person.
On the day, the morning went by in a haze of preparation, travel, and the usual bickering that comes with any planned family activity. Once we were in London, my family and I grabbed a bite to eat, briefly wandered the area around Victoria station, and took a few choice pictures – some of which we took outside of where we were to watch the performance, the Victoria Palace Theatre. Inside, we brought some merch – I got myself a poster and t-shirt – then found our seats. When 14:30 finally rolled around the lights went low and the show began.
Before going to see the performance, I had been a little bit worried about whether I’d like it as much as the soundtrack given that I wouldn’t be getting to see the original cast which I have now spent years listening to, but it turned out that I shouldn’t have. The entire cast was brilliant and brilliantly cast – even those who were standbys or alternates – and I loved watching them.
Whilst the voices of the named characters weren’t the ones I’ve come to know and love through countless listens of the soundtrack, the performers were great in their own right and some really blew me away with just how good they were and how well they suited the character. As an Angelica fan I was particularly happy that I enjoyed the voice of the woman who played her – Ellena Vincent for that performance – who’s voice was strong, and soulful in the way Angelica’s is on the soundtrack.
In further praise of the cast, the acting was also great. I said before that they were well cast and part of why I think this is because they really embodied the characters as I’ve been imagining them for the past three years; their mannerisms, movements, and expressions were on point. Additionally, I believed the acting. I believed the camaraderie between Hamilton (Karl Queensborough) and his fellow soldiers, the affection between the Schuyler sisters, and the love between Hamilton and Eliza (Rachelle Ann Go).
For me, the cast I watched really delivered on my expectations of this show.
The choreography was precise and smooth, and the performers pulled it off seamlessly, moving on stage like an incredibly well-oiled machine. They were energetic and graceful as they danced, and swift in the way they moved into place and moved props in and out of position. One moment I found particularly impressive was when the cast lifted props – tables, chairs, and the like – moving them smoothly and in slow motion as Hamilton sung about the eye of the hurricane. Considering all of the physical activity involved, I can only imagine the performers spend incredible amounts of time staying fit to give that performance twice a day, under the layers of clothing they wear to resemble those of the times, and under the bright stage lights.
Speaking of clothing, I liked the costumes. They fit the period – at least as far as my knowledge of late 18th Century North America is concerned – helped to establish each of individual character’s style, and fit the characters’ personalities. Additionally, they looked good and though well-fitting allowed the cast the freedom of movement they needed on stage.
The space on the stage was remarkably well-used and never really felt empty. At times there were props taking up space, helping to establish the setting or the mood, but at others it was just the performers. Sometimes there was plenty of them on stage or at the edges of it, dancing or adding other engaging visual movements to accompany and complement the music or central part of the performance. This did sometimes mean that there was more going on than I could take in, and if I could I’d go watch it again just to have the chance to.
At other times, the number of characters on stage was limited, allowing for focus on particularly interesting or important moments. I remember really liking the use of the spotlight in pulling the focus to Eliza and emphasising her loneliness during Burn.
Furthermore, the dynamic nature of the stage, with its revolving nature and moving stairs helped the performance to further get the most out of the space. I enjoyed how the revolving stage was used throughout, being used to move actors from one position to another, or sometimes to provide the illusion of movement – such as when characters were meant to be walking. I also liked how it was used during dancing or for dramatic effect, like at the point of “rewind” during Satisfied.
Overall, it was a great performance. Listening was one thing, but watching really elevated my Hamilton experience. Seeing it on stage instead of just listening to the soundtrack helped to provide positional and character context, it furthered the emotional experience – both the happy and sad parts – and was just so much more stimulating and engaging than the music alone. As an additional benefit, the musical contained moments that weren’t translated into the soundtrack.
During the performance, I laughed – especially at King George (Jon Robyns) – I teared up at times, and I just loved every second of it. It was utterly enthralling and the whole 2 hours and 45 minutes – slightly longer than that actually, due to the slightly longer than 15-minute intermission we experienced – went by all too quickly.
Come the end I found that I was really quite Satisfied and I’m so grateful that the performance lived up to my three years of expectation. Hamilton is honestly one hell of An American Musical.
This was my very first theatre musical, so I’m no expert on these things, but I hope I still got across how good I thought the show was.
Additionally, now that I’ve been to one, I really have a newfound respect for all involved, who must do incredible amounts of work to produce something as incredible as the show I (finally) got to witness on Saturday.
I’m really quite grateful to all those who were involved in producing this first experience of mine.
Anyway, thanks for reading!
2 thoughts on “On (finally) watching Hamilton – A performance review”
Very interesting review. How did you find the actors American accents ?
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I’m glad it interested you 🙂 I thought the accents were pretty good actually. Enough that none of them pulled me out of it at any point. Also, I remember thinking Burr’s (Sifiso Mazibuko’s) accent in particular was very good.