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Turbulent hero: Debutant Jamael Westman triumphs as Alexander Hamilton  (©MATTHEW MURPHY)



The most heartening thing about Hamilton is that it is a mega-hit, cross-generational musical that gets more rewarding the more you know about the foundations of the American constitution. For a London audience in 2018, that sounds like a tall order. But the Tony awards-laden show, which arrived trailing clouds of admiration from Broadway and Chicago at the start of the year, is borne along on the wave of witty lyrics and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sublime gift for the kind of musical repartee that can make an edgy rap rhyme out of the first meetings and the crafty power-play of America’s founding fathers.

Burr: “How you gonna get your debt plan through?”

We meet our turbulent hero, played by Jamael Westman (an extraordinary first big break for a 25-year-old Rada graduate), driving a  platoon of dancers as soldiers, seizing British artillery at Brooklyn and soon under the fatherly wing of General (George) Washington. The war is over quicker than you can say hip-hop, and the ambitious, fissiparous founding fathers get Project America under way. The original team of rivals is riven from the start by envy and mistrust. Miranda hones in on the relations between super-confident Hamilton — “young, scrappy and hungry, just like my country” — and the brooding Burr (Giles Terera). Terera is by far the better singer of the duo — Westman dominates the stage at well over six feet, but lacks the voice heft of recent American productions. The casting keeps to the spirit Miranda intends with the most ethnically diverse staging in the West End. Is it, as some allege, too comfortably PC? Well, it’s a stretch to hail Hamilton and others moving from one 18th-century British dependency to another as plucky immigrants in the sense we would use the word now, but Hamilton was also an outsider at the time with an arriviste’s blend of self-confidence and self-doubt.

The more obscure or complicated the story, the better the drama. So the foundations of the US Treasury under Hamilton’s federal funding arrangements, the stand-off over the location of the capital, and the extent of presidential powers (contemporary relevance is broadly winked at) produce the best set-pieces. “The room where it happens” is a sly, masterful insight into closed-door encounters that drive the world forward: “Jefferson approaches with the dinner and invite/Madison responds with Virginian insight.”
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