American hip-hop musical Hamilton is one of Broadway’s biggest ever productions – and now it’s coming to Victoria. We find out why one critic urged readers to remortgage their homes to make sure they get tickets.
No resident, tourist or commuter passing Victoria Palace Theatre in recent times will have failed to notice the industry and excitement surrounding the staging of Hamilton, the musical that has become so celebrated and relevant stateside that former First Lady and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton cited it during her appearance at Cheltenham Literature Festival.
With a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a garland of an unprecedented 11 Tony Awards, there is little mystery as to why the musical, which tells the story of US founding father Alexander Hamilton through rap and hip-hop, prompted theatre impresario Sir Cameron Macintosh to embark on such a project of theatre redesign in order to bring it to audiences back over the pond.
After months of building work, and a delayed opening caused by unforeseen issues, the Victoria Palace theatre will now open its doors to an already sold-out run of the musical in December.
Near-hysteria has surrounded the unlikely Broadway smash stateside, with tickets selling for as much as $4,000. So what is the story behind Hamilton? Here are a few interesting points.
One of the lesser known of the seven key American founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton became George Washington’s right hand man after travelling to New York as a teenager. Born out of wedlock and raised in poverty in the Caribbean island of St Croix, he was abandoned by his father and orphaned by his mother.
Hamilton took himself to New York as a teenager. He was a hero of the of the American War of Independence, advocating a new, written US constitution. An eloquent and prolific writer, he was the author of two-thirds of the Federalist Papers. After serving as George Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, he became America’s first Treasury Secretary.
Later, Hamilton achieved the dubious distinction of being at the centre of the nation’s first political sex scandal, after an extramarital affair became public. He never again held office, and before reaching the age of fifty he was dead, killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, the Vice-President.
Composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda also played the lead role. It has been rumoured that he will reprise the role in the UK at some point. Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspired by the story of Alexander Hamilton when he happened to pick up a copy of historian Ron Chernow’s 800 page biography of Hamilton at the airport as a holiday read. He saw Hamilton’s relentless nature, brilliance and stubbornness as a great hip hop story.
When he received a call from the White House inviting him to perform at an evening of live performance that the Obamas were hosting with a theme of ‘the American Experience’ (he had previously starred in the Broadway musical ‘In the Heights’ and again was composer and lyricist) he decided to debut a song that evening, but didn’t mention that it was the only song he had yet written.
The show’s score of infectious, contemporary pop songs has won acclaim for references to hip-hop grandmasters such as Eminem and Tupac, as well as the more traditional offerings of Gilbert and Sullivan and Stephen Sondheim. The award-winning Broadway cast recording of the score is the biggest selling cast recording for 50 years.
Cameron Macintosh, who has produced three of the longest-running musicals of all time with Les Misérables, Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, decided to bring it to the UK when he saw it off Broadway in 2015. He has been involved in every decision of the refurbishment of the Victoria Palace Theatre since work started.
Fans include Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Obama, Star Wars director JJ Abrams, Beyonce, Jay Z. James Corden ( who hosted the Tony’s awards when Hamilton swept the board, featured Lin-Manuel Miranda in the “Carpool Karaoke” slot of his CBS chat-show The Late Late Show, which has been viewed millions of times on Youtube.
It was the Hamilton cast from whom Donald Trump demanded an apology when his Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by the audience when he attended the hit musica.and then had a message about protecting diversity delivered to him from the stage after the curtain call. Accusing theatre-goers of having harassed Pence, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!” He demanded an apology: “The Theatre must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologise!”
The New York Times theatre critic urged his readers to “mortgage their houses and lease their children to acquire tickets”. The musical, created during the tenure of the first African-American president, presents the birth of the nation in an unfamiliar light, and not solely as the work of white men. Lin-Manuel Miranda has written Cabinet meetings as rap battles where participants face off while surrounded by whooping supporters. Founding Fathers are not portrayed as exalted statesmen but as reckless revolutionaries, and sometimes petty rivals, living at a moment of extreme volatility, opportunity, and risk.
Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre, December 6, 2017 to June 30, 2018
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