Raise a glass
This may as well be a love letter celebrating “Hamilton,” now running at the Victoria Palace Theater in London, and Rachelle Ann Go, who’s currently playing Eliza Schuyler.
It’s Monday, the day after my UK Tour has ended. Still in the afterglow of that big day, my manager Josh Pultz and I headed to Nova in Victoria for an early dinner to build up our strength (we met up with one of my besties, Victor Lirio, for delicious hot ramen and fabulous cocktails at Bone Daddies).
Once we arrived at the theater and got ourselves seated, I couldn’t contain my excitement.
Full disclosure: This is my fourth time seeing “Hamilton,” but the first time in the West End. Since I had already experienced the juggernaut that is the story of this “10-dollar founding father,” my expectations were set that I would definitely enjoy this viewing, but not be any more bowled over compared to the first time I saw the show back in 2016 with most of the original company onstage. I was wrong.
This entire cast is abundantly gifted (and well-trained) in the art of storytelling, thus presenting this musical with clarity. Those raps that once flew by my ears at lightning speed are, without any changes to tempo that govern their pace, suddenly much easier to understand.
Sure, we could argue that over the last few years, “Hamilton’s” cast album has been played numerous times, which aided in that clarity, but the London cast’s execution goes beyond the music.
We figured, if this is a group of people for whom William Shakespeare is a walk in the park, then logically, it would be for Lin-Manuel Miranda as well—but with hip-hop.
Before continuing, allow me please to personally thank every standby, alternate, understudy and swing working on Broadway and in the West End right now. We had a “Hamilton” alternate, and Aaron Burr and George Washington standbys onstage, and they were incredible.
As Burr, Waylon Jacobs beautifully paints the picture of the also-ran, the guy left in the dust of the flashier racer, a man fueled by last-minute desperation and broken by the end, relegated to the dustbin of history.
Aaron Lee Lambert as George Washington is heroic and humorous, exactly what we think the first president of the United States would be.
Karl Queensborough as Hamilton is handsome, intelligent and arrogant as all heck, perfectly cast as an immigrant kid unafraid to make his ambition a reality, never mind who he has to run over to achieve his dreams.
Allyson Ava-Brown as Angelica is gorgeously grounded, swayed only by the sight of Alexander in all her interactions with him. Courtney-Mae Briggs as Peggy can be likened to Amy March from “Little Women,” the stereotypical youngest child, as well as a sultry Maria Reynolds whose intent to extort and manipulate is clear as day from the second she enters.
Olivier nominee Jason Pennycooke is a compelling sight, pure bravery and friendship as Lafayette, and slickness and charm as Thomas Jefferson. Tarin Callender in the dual roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison balances brute strength of character in one, and oily politician in the other.
Cleve September breaks hearts as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. Jon Robyns as King George is infinitely hilarious in this star turn.
The whole ensemble is wonderful, all their choreography done in service to the piece. Smaller featured roles stand out (Leslie Garcia Brown as Charles Lee, Curtis Angus as George Eacker, Stephenson Ardern-Sodje as James Reynolds, and Leah Hill as the Bullet are principal-quality). Side note: there is quite a bit of Pinoy representation here, thanks to Rachelle, Leslie and swing/codance captain Alexzandra Sarmiento.
Speaking of Rachelle Ann Go … Bobby Garcia already warned me that I would be totally conquered by her, so I made sure to fasten that proverbial seatbelt. However, I was still woefully unprepared for the impact she would make on my poor heart.
We all know her voice, those powerful pipes that won singing contests in what seems like a lifetime ago. However, she has grown by leaps and bounds as an effective interpreter of musical theater, especially of this particular show.
As Eliza, she exudes warmth and purity, capturing the giddiness of a young woman that falls helplessly in love with this brash, ambitious young man, setting the audience up for that precipitous fall when she sings “Burn,” her bitterness and grief at her son’s death, and the emotional release when she finally forgives in “It’s Quiet Uptown.”
Her final moments recounting how she keeps Hamilton’s legacy alive is heartwarming to watch, and that last breath she takes before the lights flicker out is how we all wish our own passing would go. Her performance made this Pinoy audience member feel so proud.
Beyond the fact that this is a musical deserving of all the accolades continually being heaped upon it, “Hamilton” is a story that should inspire all of us. A bastard, orphan, son of a whore from a far-flung island in the Caribbean, is able to become someone whose influences in government can still be felt today, thanks to sheer will, a top-notch brain and blinding ambition … a small rag-tag group of soldiers overpowers what was then a global superpower … and how democracy in its creation can be a flawed proposition, but still a worthy goal to realize.
If there’s a moral to the story here, it could very well be thus: he may be that small, insignificant immigrant now, but given time and opportunity, he will do great things that will change the world. Or, in the words of Lin-Manuel himself: “Immigrants, we get the job done.”
Congratulations, “Hamilton” London company! We raise a glass to you all.
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