Review: We knew Hamilton was good, but we didn't know it was this good
Not to question the genius that is Lin-Manuel Miranda…
Hamilton is in Abu Dhabi – after long days and nights of anticipation – and what an entry it is. The brainchild of performing arts everyman Lin-Manuel Miranda, who does just about everything, from singing to composing to songwriting to acting to rocking men’s stockings circa the Regency Era (the casual stack of awards, one of which is a Pulitzer, no less, is the evidence of that), it is a spectacle of pure theatrical excellence.
But we knew that, didn’t we? We’ve read the praise, leaned in to the word-of-mouth hype and caught glimpses of it on social media. The international rendition of the show, different to the original, pioneering production only in terms of the performers, is every bit a Broadway dream of lyrical acrobatics come true on the Etihad Arena stage.
For the uninitiated, Hamilton, as the name would suggest, follows the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and the first Secretary of the Treasury during George Washington’s presidency. Hamilton came from nothing – he didn’t have much to his name, but he had intelligence and the power of the pen, which he wielded to make waves and drive change.
The magic of Hamilton is less the folk-hero-esque glory of its namesake protagonist, because the true story of that world is more divergent than what we’re told in this interpretation, and more the heightened, enlightened juxtaposition that comes from the incredible rap, hip-hop and R&B that makes this musical. It’s more the story of the people around Hamilton – his wife and lifelong companion; Eliza Schuyler, Angelica Schuyler, his sister-in-law and a woman for whose wit and wonder he held deep respect; his companions in revolution John Laurens, Marquis de Lafayette, and Hercules Mulligan; his rivals, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr and James Madison and his mentor, George Washington. These people, who made him the man he was, and carried his legacy. ‘America then, as told by America now’ because all these characters, the Founding Fathers, cast as people of colour were actually white.
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The storytelling is stellar – the words draw you in and hold you there till you’re transported to a time you never knew through a portal you’d never expect. Jason Arrow as Hamilton is faultless, quite literally, with a voice and emotion that sounds so much like Miranda’s, it’s almost trippy. The rest of the cast is just as perfect, if not more, taking on their roles with conviction. The singing? Top tier. The stage design? Accurate but still theatre-stage friendly. The costumes? Incredible to witness, as the actors break it down in dance moves most definitely not Regency. Essentially, every part of the production hits the spot.
Hamilton does not romanticise the hero, does not glorify him as this pinnacle of perfection. It talks openly about his affair, how he broke his wife’s heart by not only bringing another woman into their lives, but also by airing their dirty laundry out in the open in order to save his own name, how he was loud and obsessive and self-absorbed and the cause of the country was the damaging cause of his life. How perhaps, he held more than just admiration for Angelica. So, yes, you root for Hamilton, but you also hate him a little bit, and that’s just the reality of larger-than-life personalties like his.
My favourite parts of the show were the rap battle cabinet meetings and King George singing break up songs for a colony that tries to detach from him after he treats them like dirt. I’ll remember that for a long time to come and as the cast takes a bow and the theatre empties out, I’ve laughed, cried and rejoiced. That, my friends, is the true magic of Hamilton.
Hamilton, Etihad Arena, Abu Dhabi. January 17 to February 4, 2024. Sun – Thurs, 6pm, Dhs 180-1500 & Fri – Sun (excl. Sun 6 pm), Dhs240 – Dhs1700. For more information, visit www.etihadarena.ae