Stellar ‘Hamilton’ Blows London’s Skeptical Theater Critics Away
When Broadway hit ‘Hamilton’ arrived in London, some doubters wondered if this very American tale would be lost in translation. A triumphant opening night proved it hasn’t been.
LONDON—Britain’s theater critics would have loved nothing more than looking down their noses at the mega-hyped Hamilton which opened in the West End on Thursday night amid a blaze of unprecedented song-and-dance hyperbole.
But, with the exception of the Daily Mail’s curmudgeon-in-chief Quentin Letts, they were too busy being blown away to cock a snook. It is an almost unanimous five stars from London. U.K. audiences are falling just as feverishly in love with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show as Broadway ones have.
Andrzej Lukowshi in Time Out said it was clearly “the best musical of our generation.”
“Okay, let’s just get this out of the way,” he wrote. “Yes, it’s kind of a drag that there’s so much hype around it. But there was a lot of hype around penicillin. And that worked out pretty well. If anything—and I’m truly sorry to say this—Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US treasury, is actually better than the hype suggests.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent was one of the writers whose initial skepticism could be detected. “It’s a fair bet that you could get yourself lynched right now if you were to walk round the West End with “HAMILTON SUCKS” emblazoned on your chest,” he wrote.
But even in a climate when tickets are changing hands for $8,000, he was blown away by the end of the show. “Patience may be required to secure tickets, but on no account is this to be missed,” he said.
In the Daily Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish agreed. “Lock up your doubters: I have to report that it really is as good as we’ve been told,” he said.
He mused on the reaction of the audience in London to a show that was essentially about America gaining its independence from the clutches of Great Britain: “It’s as if a vast arc of history, spanning centuries, has come full circle here in the West End. Look what we managed to do after we left you, the show says, in playfulness not anger. The awed answer from our side can only be: like, wow.”
The only problem The Stage could find was the possibility that the show had become too refined in the process of restaging it for the West End.
“Brought across the Atlantic by impresario Cameron Mackintosh to a lavishly refurbished theatre, this show doesn’t feel like the young, scrappy and hungry product that it must have seemed when it hit Broadway,” Tim Bano wrote. “Commercial polish shines, just a little, on its surface. It’s less of a revelation. The payoff, however, is a sense of utter completeness.”
The necessary refurbishment of the Victoria Palace Theatre, which originally opened in 1911, resulted in delays to the opening of the show and left 16,000 disappointed ticket-holders to discover that they would no longer be among the first to see the show outside of the U.S.
The show was an instant sellout, but those displaced audiences will all be reseated in the coming months.
“There are lots of shows with good songs,” said Tony Peters in the Radio Times. “Hamilton is much more than that: it’s a game-changer. It’s a vital, revolutionary work that raises the musical theatre bar in the way Show Boat and West Side Story did in their day. Not least because it boasts a multi-racial cast, which feels especially significant in its London home—Victoria Palace Theatre, where The Black and White Minstrel Show once reigned supreme for 10 years.”
Even grumpy Letts in the Daily Mail who awarded the show three stars for failing to live up to “the mad publicity hoopla” had to concede that it was effervescent. “Not since the Old English epic poem Beowulf has there been a work of such prolonged, rippling rhythm as ‘Hamilton’. The best reason for catching this over-hyped American musical is the energy of its hip-hop rap writing,” he wrote.
Replacing the likes of Miranda himself was another fear for this transfer, which has cast an even more ethnically diverse group of actors to play these old white men.
“Jamael Westman plays our man on the $10 bill, a risky casting given that he is 25 and lists only two stage appearances to his name. But he is sensational, charisma and charm radiating, turning Hamilton into flesh before our eyes,” wrote Ann Treneman in The Times.
Her overall review summed up: “In a word, wow.”
Mikey Smith, from the Mirror, saw the original cast in New York. “Giles Terera’s performance as Burr is—dare I say it—even better than Leslie Odom Jr.’s acclaimed Broadway turn in the role.”
His conclusion: “Sell everything you own to get your hands on a ticket. You won’t regret it.”