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Theatre Review: Hamilton *****

Anna Burnside reviews 'an astounding achievement'.

There are some shows that become bigger than a night out and become a phenomenon. Wicked, for reasons that escape me, is one. Hamilton is another.

It’s more obvious to the musical-sceptic why this is a cultural moment. Lin-Manuel Miranda has made a rap battle between America’s founding fathers into a compelling, genre-shifting piece of entertainment. 

It has youthful verve and enough hip-hop vernacular to give it the sheen of street. Yet there are some very traditional big musical numbers in the mix, plus a chorus whose dance routines could, in other circumstances, have come from an extremely well-resourced panto.

The touring cast did full justice to Miranda’s brilliantly crafted script. It’s a production that travels well. All the budget has its feet on the floor - the set is restrained by Broadway/West End standards and there are no pyrotechnics, helicopters or other expensive dress-up elements.

The stage does have a revolving panel which can’t be cheap, but this enhances the choreography and performances rather than creating a wow factor to distract from them.

The script does the exposition rather than relying on video projections or a helpful voiceover for those of us whose American history is sketchy. I was worried that a lack of familiarity with George Washington’s CV would be a drawback, but it was perfectly possible to enjoy the spectacle without a deep knowledge of the issues at stake: with so much to enjoy, the fine points of constitutional law were not required—I didn’t even Google anything during the interval.

Shaq Taylor was a delicious Hamilton, bringing personality and charm to his shiny britches. Sam Oladeinde was a standout Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s mentor/friend/rival. He is also a qualified solicitor. This is just unfair.

Billy Nevers played a double blinder, as ze French Marquis de Lafayette inciting revolution in the first half, then as Thomas Jefferson entering the stage like Prince on a raised podium at the start of the second.

The women are given less to do, and when Hamilton veers towards sentimentality there is usually someone in a bodice giving it a big Disney-esque number. Maya Britto, as ill-used wife Eliza, does her best to bring an edge here.

In an extremely hard working and double-dipping cast, Daniel Boys stood out as King George. He has the best comic songs, with Miranda adding acid to Gilbert and Sullivan, and Boys delivering every pointed word. He is truly the iron fist in the ermine cloak.

Hamilton is an astounding achievement. It’s a musical about the man who founded the US treasury that has been going since 2015 and shows no sign of stopping any time soon. It has spawned its own bucket hats. It deserves them.

Hamilton performs at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh until April 27, 2024 before continuing its UK tour.

Tags: theatre

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