Tag Archives: Lin-Manuel Miranda

"Hamilton" at the Palace Theatre Victoria

Coming up to its second year in London and with five other productions all over the world, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster show is a true theatrical phenomenon. It’s nice to agree with the hype – everything you’ve heard about how good it is is true. But originality is only half the story behind how great the show is – a mastery of technique and a thorough knowledge of musical theatre combine to make it an instant classic.

Yes, Hamilton is ground breaking. The decision to cast African-American performers as the founding fathers whose story we are told (apparently more startling to theatregoers in the States) is bold. Alongside the clear and powerful advocacy of immigration, the show makes important statements for our times. Miranda’s engagement with history – the way that he uses the past – powers the show. Not forgetting, of course, the fact that his historical characters rap.

Yet behind the new, it is traditional storytelling that Miranda excels at. It’s a skill shared by director Thomas Kail, who aids clarity without compromising subtlety. There’s a good deal going on in Hamilton – the birth of a nation as much as the eponymous character’s biography – and you’ll learn a lot. But quite simply this is a tale exquisitely told: a mix of the personal and political, with a complex plot and big ideas perfectly balanced.

Dom Hartley-Harris as George Washington
Dom Hartley-Harris as George Washington

Miranda makes his historical characters live and the cast excels as a result. The singing is excellent throughout but it is in fulfilling such rich depictions that the performers really impress. There’s a magnificent George Washington in Dom Hartley-Harris while Jason Pennycooke gives two rousing performances, first as Marquis de Lafayette and then Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton himself seems not just “young, scrappy and hungry” but a little callow – at first. The character’s development is a journey marvellously depicted by Jamael Westman, who takes the part. Like Gore Vidal, who wrote of the same events in his Narratives of Empire series, Miranda knows that Hamilton’s nemesis Aaron Burr is really the more interesting figure. Here is another life story that makes yet more political points, and a character who also narrates much of the show – the result is a breathtaking performance from Sifiso Mazibuko.

Sifiso Mazibuko as Aaron Burr in "Hamilton"
Sifiso Mazibuko as Aaron Burr

Miranda shares his talent for characterisation generously. This is a story about men but the women in the piece get their say. Even the most ardent fan of musicals has to admit this isn’t always the case and here it adds immeasurably to two love stories: Hamilton’s marriage and his unrequited romance with his sister-in-law. In the later role, Allyson Ava-Brown is stunning as she depicts a forceful woman very much of her time that we can still relate to. The role of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, goes to Rachelle Ann Go and, as with the title role, carefully matures to reveal a steely will and independence.

Rachelle Ann Go and Jamael Westman in the London production of "Hamilton"
Rachelle Ann Go and Jamael Westman

Eliza has the most wonderful love theme, a tune that really melts the heart. Which illustrates how varied the music in Hamilton is. While the rapping hit the headlines – and is superb – Miranda’s score contains a dizzying variety of styles that continually excite. Again, it is the traditional skills of writing for musical theatre that form the foundation for the show. Each character has a strong leitmotif and how well each number tells a story is remarkable. Like the show as whole, the information and emotions in each number are prodigious: there isn’t a single song that isn’t superb, adding up to a show that’s close to perfection.

www.hamiltonmusical.com

Photos by Matthew Murphy

“Bring It On” at the Southwark Playhouse

Part of an exciting summer season, the British Theatre Academy has chosen this latest musical production wisely. A high-school drama about cheerleading seems just a sensible pick. But add the name of Lin-Manuel Miranda and you should, rightly, attract a wide audience. In fact, there are no slouches behind this show: music and lyrics also come from Tom Kitt and Amanda Green, the book is by Jeff Whitty of Avenue Q fame. Given such a roster, this is a five-star show that demands respect for being firmly aimed at a younger crowd while still appealing to all.

From the Academy’s point of view, Bring It On also serves as a great showcase for the young talent it nurtures. Even the immaturity of some voices is easily excused. Under the vigorous direction and ambitious choreography of Ewan Jones, the energy and professionalism of all is admirable.

Robyn McIntyre plays Campbell, a hugely demanding role that really is the lead as she guides the show from start to finish. Forced to change schools suddenly, Campbell leaves her old friends (strong comedy parts for Isabella Pappas and Clair Gleave) for a poorer neighbourhood. The move is masterminded by her nemesis Eva (think ‘All About’ Eve Harrington) whose great number Sydnie Hocknell makes the most of. Now the former most popular girl in school has only Bridget for company – a role Kristine Kruse makes a delight – but she was just the team mascot… until now. The stage is set for plenty of self-development.

Campbell catastrophises as only a teen can, and a good deal of fun is had over the perceived high stakes of student life. The new school, complete with cleverly handled differences in teen argot, has no cheerleading culture. Turning this around, with the aim of winning a coveted championship, creates new friends including Danielle, played with star style by Chisara Agor. It won’t be a surprise to see many of this cast go on to have successful careers, but I would put money on seeing Agor again soon.

The pop songs here are good enough to be chart toppers and impressive in their variety. The lyrics are bright and frequently bold. The story itself, based on a movie, is predictable but fun. The sentimentality, updated with a discussion about self-esteem, manages to be sincere. There are some important injections of realism, mentions of race and privilege, that add great power. And a lovely twist at the end elevates the show into a real triumph.

Until 1 September 2018

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Eliza Wilmot

“In The Heights” at King’s Cross Theatre

A visit to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first show is essential preparation for his Hamilton next year. Another success story, it has had a 15-month run, after a premiere at the Southwark Playhouse, sharing a King’s Cross venue with The Railway Children. Strong enough to leave an impression wherever it finds a home, the traverse staging here, expertly handled by director Luke Sheppard and serving Drew McOnie’s energetic choreography superbly, seems especially suited for such an engaging piece.

There’s a lot of love surrounding In The Heights, not least from its dedicated young fans. Firstly, there’s love of community – namely, the area of New York that provides a setting. Two matriarchs, the elderly Abuela and the satisfyingly camp beauty salon owner Daniela, create a sense of heritage with impressive efficiency (as well as providing great roles for Norma Atallah and Aimie Atkinson). Home is the key, with nods to the problems of gentrification, and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ book works well here.

Then there’s love within the family. Most obviously with the Rosarios, who struggle with their daughter’s decision to drop out of college and start dating one of their employees. The production is lucky to have David Bedella beefing out the role of the father – he is always superb – while Juliet Gough matches him in a solo number that makes you feel she is underused. It’s a shame they couldn’t also fit in a sense of their own love affair – it seems too much time was spent on that American dream.

Which brings us to romance. Not one but two struggling couples create sweet moments. There’s Nina Rosario’s star-crossed affair with Benny (both Gabriela Garcia and Arun Blair-Mangat sing their parts deliciously). And Usnavi, with his fumbling approaches to Vanessa, another strong female character that Sarah Naudi makes the most of. Usnavi is a star role for Sam Mackay, who makes light work of his task as narrator and utilises his character’s diffidence well. Alongside great chemistry with well-meaning cousin Sonny, a sterling performance from Damian Buhagiar, it all goes to make a hero out of this everyday guy, which drives the show marvellously.

There are some stumbles from the book when it comes to rounding off stories and a sentimentality that’s hardly sophisticated. But the staging, including a brilliant scene during a power blackout, dancing and energy are all terrific. Miranda’s music is an innovative blend of rap with the Spanish heritage of Manhattan Heights, which revels in its multiculturalism. It’s complex but never alienating. Likewise, the spirit of the piece is a simple one. With a strong knowledge of musical theatre, for all its originality, this is a good old-fashioned show full of big emotions.

Until 8 January 2017

www.intheheightslondon.com

Photos by Johan Persson