DeAngelo Jones as Philip Hamilton,, Shaq Taylor as Aexandrer Hamilton, Billy Nevers as LaFayette and KM Drew Boateng as Hercles Mulligan. Pictures: Danny Kaan.


Birmingham Hippodrome


Mix urban hip-hop and rap with the glitz of Broadway and the result is theatre magic with a musical that more than lives up to the hype.

It is a big musical in every way, a big cast, a big story and in the 50 years or so years doing this job the biggest theatre set I have ever seen, a majestic affair of bricks and beams rising high into the exposed flies topped with a vast roof filling lighting rig – this is a show that means business.

We open in the 1770s at a time of turmoil in Britain’s American colonies, with the colonists largely autonomous in their daily affairs having taxes and import duties imposed on them from 3,000 miles away by Parliament in London, where they had little or no say. There were demands of “no taxation without representation” and acts of rebellion, such as the Boston Tea Party. The unrest was leading inevitably along the path to a war of independence.

Here we follow the American protagonists with the young idealist and ambitious Alexander Hamilton on the fringes of fame and looking for a way in. Shaq Taylor, who was last in these parts as the beast who captured beauty, is a splendid Hamilton, he captures his drive and single-minded ambition for both America and himself and Taylor manages to make his character age convincingly over the 40 years or so covered from his arrival in America to his death in a duel. His only problem is that Hamilton is a difficult man to like.



Sam Oladeinde as Aaron Burr and Company

Trying to keep him on track, with the advice smile more, talk less, is fellow lawyer Aaron Burr, a quieter, more cautious man in the confident hands of Sam Oladeinde, an alumni of The Royal Academy of Music and a qualified solicitor – and he probably needed his own legal advice as the once friends become enemies and Hamilton was to die at the hands of Burr in a dual. Burr was subsequently unsuccessfully tried for treason.

War brings in Billy Nevers as Marquis de Lafayette. The colonists had the support of France and Spain, and Frenchman Lafayette was elevated to hero status when he led the American forces in the final victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown. With the costs rising alarmingly, Britain called it a day. Nevers might have been a flamboyant LaFayette, who incidentally went home to become a French revolutionary, but that was nothing to his almost foppish, extrovert Thomas Jefferson in the second act and his lively clashes with the more reserved and considered Hamilton.

Backing Jefferson was another future President, the bullish James Madison, played by KM Drew Boateng who had also given us a sort of 18th century BA Baracus character as Hercules Mulligan in Act 1. Mulligan was an Irish -American tailor, spy and early revolutionary who befriended and influenced the young Hamilton, setting him on the road towards armed insurrection

Hamilton might be the main man in the musical but the real main man as far as history is concerned was George Washington, given a paternal air by Charles Simmons who provides the grace and humility needed for the man who really was the father of a new nation.

There are other characters who play their part, Philip Hamilton, Alexander’s headstrong son, played with youthful enthusiasm by DeAngelo Jones, who, defending his father’s name, dies in a duel – starting a family tradition.

And there is Eliza. Hamilton’ wife, played and beautifully sung by Mayo Britto. It was a perfect marriage . . . or perhaps might have been had it not been for Hamilton’s affair with a married woman, Maria Reynolds, played by Gabriela Benedetti.

The yearlong or so affair was to be his downfall as he published a confession and explanation, claiming blackmail amid accusations of corruption. The musical also hints that Hamilton and his sister-in-law Angelica might have . . . perhaps . . . . whatever happened, or didn’t happen, it provides another fine performance and lovely voice, this time from Aisha Jawando – and it is just a hint, nothing more.

And as for the British . . . we only really comes across one and George III is made a figure of fun in a delightful comic turn by Daniel Boys, a George in this case more akin to Shrek than Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III.  

While the first act is the lead up to the war the second is the aftermath, with the arguments about the form of Government, the constitution and the like, clashes between Jeffereson and Hamilton and the ramifications of Washington stepping down.


The company

To be fair, that is all a bit of a mystery to British audiences and even as a potted history for Americans it plays somewhat fast and loose with facts and timelines, but it never sets out to be a documentary, it’s a musical with a mission to entertain merely based on the remarkable career of Hamilton, with poetic licence in play.

The set From David Korins is jaw droppingly good, huge, almost industrial, with a complex revolve to create motion and movement to accentuate the brilliant costumes from Paul Tazewell. Howell Binkley gives a masterclass in the use of computers and LED lighting with an array of beams and spots that are worth watching in their own right.

Unheralded stars of the show are the ensemble who really do work their socks off with endless, complex and always innovative and interesting choreography from Andy Blankenbuehler. Even when nothing is really happening the ensemble are there to make sure interest is maintained. They deserve a standing ovation and a huge bow all on their own.

Nevin Steinberg has created a balanced sound design while an 11 piece orchestra under musical director Zach Flis is huge for a touring production and the music shows the immense benefits of live musicians over computer fill in.

The book, music and lyrics were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who first played Hamilton, and since it opened off Broadway in 2015 it has taken the world by storm with Birmingham now falling under its spell. Its historical interpretations might not please historians but as a piece of theatre and the age-old art of stagecraft it is simply magnificent. To 31-08-24.

Roger Clarke


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