Victoria Palace, London
“A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists, Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is”… Change doesn’t just happen, it has to be ushered in by visionaries determined to shake up the status quo to allow the rest of us to shuffle in in their wake. This is true of many things but particularly when it comes to diversity in our theatres, which makes it pleasing that this first production of Hamilton outside of the US has maintained its commitment to multiracial casting in its depiction of the travails of ill-fated Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
Sure, shows such as Motown and Dreamgirls offer much-welcomed opportunities for performers of colour. But it’s the vision of the likes of Michael Buffong and Talawa casting an all-black Guys and Dolls and Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail making this decision that allows those performers to get the kind of credits on their CV that would otherwise never be gained.
Just look at the bio for someone as exceptionally talented as Giles Terera – by rights he should have been offered Valjean or Javert by now, the Phantom or Miss Trunchbull, the kind of roles that leading men deserve (and maybe has, maybe he turned them down). But looking across the bios for the rest of the cast, it is evident that there’s too little effort being made to recognise talent and support it into roles that it wouldn’t necessarily be considered for, so that we can move away from considering it unconventional casting.
Which is a long-winded and awkwardly argued way of saying ‘hell yes, this is an extraordinary cast getting the chance to shine in extraordinary ways’. Recent graduate Jamael Westman bursts onto the scene and into our hearts as a hugely charismatic Hamilton and Terera graduates to that (co-)leading man status with a supremely confident grace as a too-easily-emotionally-bruised Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival. Their sparring is perfectly encapsulated in their age difference and the contrasting but complementary energies that they exude.
Obioma Ugoala‘s George Washington is another deeply impressive performance, and there are huge amounts to enjoy in the cracking chemistry between Jason Pennycooke (Lafayette and Jefferson), Tarinn Callender (Mulligan and Madison) and Cleve September (Laurens and Hamilton Jnr). And representing for the women, Rachel John is superlative as Angelica Schuyler, nailing the greatest moment in modern musical theatre (‘Satisfied’, in case you were wondering), and Christine Allado does well as both Peggy and Maria.
You can read my review from Broadway for a description of the show itself, I was more interested in celebrating the work of this cast at this moment in time. I’ve seen the show twice now (first preview and last night) and the ensemble work was just outstanding at both, delivering Andy Blankenbuehler‘s choreography to perfection, capturing the all the musical shifts of Miranda’s score as if they’ve been rapping musical theatre all their lives. It’s worth the hype yo.