Victoria Palace, London
Well, first of all, Cameron, I love what you’ve done with the place. The seats are comfortable and the decor is a delicious Viennese sweep through Frank Matcham’s gilt and plush retaining tradition but with a touch of Secessionist glamour. Bars, foyers and toilets are all very nice indeed.
Widening the stage makes the Victoria Palace look like a two-thirds scale Coliseum, and adds to the sense of occasion: it feels as though London now has a generous purpose-built musical theatre. Lighting and sound equipment are perfection.
Hamilton is slick, and lavish, and a glorious parade of movement and dance: Andy Blankenbuehler’s seamless choreography is a constant athletic cavalcade in which the male chorus frequently flex their pecs in cut-off muscle tops and arch their backs in breeches and boots like Chippendales.
Musically, Hamilton is almost as complex as the story: heralded as a ‘rap musical’ it’s true that there’s a lot of fast patter and internal rhyme in the recitative but it’s so well done, and so clearly enunciated, that you forget this comes from a gang heritage of hip-hop and accept it equally as a clever updating of opera. Hamilton reboots the through-sung story as assuredly as Evita did in 1978. Besides, it soon gives way to ‘proper’ songs you may recognise as ballads, R&B, pop, soul, or – well, any musical genre you care to name: composer, lyricist and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda can turn his hand to all of them.
If you’re still searching for the ‘new Sondheim’ – don’t bother, he’s here.
I’d cut the number of songs (37) – if only to limit the whooping and whistling of the audience in recognition of what they’ve heard on the CD – and extend the best ones, but three performances stand out for both acting and musical excellence. This show is not designed to have a star, but if it had one it would be Giles Terera playing VP Aaron Burr compering the battle of Yorktown like an 18th century Sammy Davis Junior, magnificent stage presence and an endlessly pleasing voice.
Jason Pennycooke makes Lafayette camper than his Jacob the maid in La Cage Aux Folles but ye gods can that man throw shapes, and in between the politics and bloodshed Michael Jibson‘s hilarious King George III is deservedly an audience favourite – although clinically mad, he’s possibly the only sane one in this asylum of revolutionary backstabbers.
It’s good, beautifully lit and sumptuous to look at and the fluid diversity in the casting feels unselfconscious and apolitical except to indicate how the United States evolved as a melting pot of many cultures.
It seems ironic now that for many years, the Victoria Palace was the home of The Black and White Minstrel Show.
In so many delightful ways, it still is.