Last year I received raised eyebrows when explaining that Hamilton tickets cannot be booked eight months in advance – folks from abroad had made their travel arrangements already and put Hamilton on the agenda. After months of trying to win £10 tickets through the musical’s app, tickets for July finally became available in April (advanced booking options are now available). Because of the exceptional ticket prices we picked seats in the back, but even here the ticket prices carry three digits. With the credit card I did the booking with we are being identified and non-paper tickets are printed for each of us (work that one out!).
The Victoria Palace Theatre – probably the most Western outpost of the West End – has glamorous staircases, bars, mirrors, chandeliers and carpets and everything else you want from an old theatre. Built in 1911, its refurbishment was completed before the European premiere of Hamilton in 2017.
Because the foyer fills quickly we take our seats as soon as the doors open. Even though our seats are just in front of the very last row, we are actually not too far away from the stage – this is not an enormous arena but a historic theatre. The balcony above us blocks the view to the very top of the stage but once I have figured out that the stage design displays the waterfront of a harbour throughout the whole evening I am no longer annoyed.
Feature writers have marbled how the life story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton (born in 1755 and shot in a duel in 1804), retold in hip-hop, R ‘n B and soul music by a consciously mainly non-white cast, could become the critics’ and the audiences’ favourite. It is obvious: You do not learn about Hamilton in history class (and I cannot think of a film in which he ever featured) and the west ends and broadways of this world yearned – maybe without knowing – for something new, not musically challenging but something different. Hamilton delivers and is at the same time funny, heart-warming, dramatic and educational. I haven’t listened to R ‘n B since the end of the 90s but – what a relieve – the music relates to this era more than to the aggressive, vulgar rap I endured in the night clubs in Las Vegas: I feel firstly challenged but then wonderfully nostalgic. No props distract from the sung or spoken dialogues, only the occasional desk appears or a book or two: The real stage settings are the background dancers in their lo-fi dance tights and with button upped corsages – the most elegant homage to the sans-culottes ever imagined. If they sold a Barbie doll of them in the gift shop, I’d buy it.
In the second act I am confused when Hamilton’s companion, the Marquis of Lafayette, has lost his French accent and aims to become President of the United States – didn’t Lafayette return to revolutionary France and share Thomas Jefferson’s writings with the old world and then led armies well into the Napoleonic era? But with the arrival of Hamilton’s son even I figure out that some actors are now playing different roles: The actor who played Lafayette is playing Jefferson now (dressed as Prince). The key characters stay though and so does the eccentric Charles III in his pompous crown, sharing his views of the independence movements from far away Britain.
The international hype for Hamilton has reached Hamburg where they are now working on the musical’s first non-English version to premiere next year. I look forward to that and in the meantime reengage Hamilton’s app because maybe-maybe-maybe the return ticket lottery works out for me this time.
Lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda
**** out of 5 stars
£100 per ticket in the stalls: row T, seat 13 and 14