In Depth

Hamilton comes to London's West End

As the hit American musical prepares for its UK run later this year, we recount its extraordinary critical and box-office success

In May 2009, Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to the White House Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word. He gave the audience a quick synopsis of his work-in-progress: "I am actually working on a hip-hop album, a concept album, about the life of someone I think embodies hip-hop: Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton."

At this point, Barack and Michelle Obama laughed, along with the rest of the audience. "You may laugh," said the charismatic Miranda. "But it's true. He was born penniless... (and) became George Washington's right-hand man. I am going to be doing the first song tonight... snap along if you like."

Miranda, dressed in a black suit, black tie and white shirt with the top button undone, launched into a thrilling segment of what was to become Hamilton. Watch the video on the White House website and you'll see Michelle snapping her fingers as her husband beams at Miranda's smart, sharp and funny lyrics.

Yet no one in the room could possibly have known that Hamilton would go on to become one of the most successful Broadway plays of all time. In 2015, the New York Times marvelled at the play's "heat". In a newspaper admired for its critical toughness, this reminded us of what we'd read elsewhere – the "mega-buzzy bio-musical" is one of the most talked-about shows since The Book of Mormon and the winner of myriad awards, including a Pulitzer Prize – and then suggested that the play might well "redefine what an American musical can look and sound like".

Using brilliantly written hip-hop and R&B rhymes to tell the story of one of America's founding fathers is radical enough in itself. Miranda then cast almost entirely black and Latino actors, which is sadly still so unusual that it is commented on in virtually every article written about the show (including this one). Throw in emotion and sheer energy, and it's easy to see why Hamilton is both a critical and a word-of-mouth hit.

There is just one problem: it's almost impossible to get a ticket. Although everyone in New York talks about it, few have actually seen it. The notable exception is future VP Mike Pence, who might have sold his ticket had he known he would be taken to task from the stage that night. Miranda's final performances produced a $10,000-a-ticket frenzy.

Despite the show being a quintessentially American story, there is likely to be similar hysteria here in the UK for the show's autumn 2017 debut. Savvy fans have pre-registered for tickets, while the rest of us can only hope to get lucky when they go on general sale on 30 January. There is little point in consoling yourself with the thought that Hamilton's "mega buzz" is hype: the New York Times's reviewer wrote that he was loath to tell people to "mortgage their houses and lease their children" to get hold of tickets for a hit Broadway show.

But Hamilton, he concluded, "might just about be worth it".

hamiltonthemusical.co.uk

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