Last week, I got to see “Hamilton” again. I’m very lucky to have seen it multiple times because, well first of all because it’s the best, but secondly, and more importantly for our purposes here, there’s not much that reviews coming out at this point can say about this show so it’s great to talk instead about how this production is evolving. If I read one more London critic reviewing it anew now and making a “I got to be in the room where it happened’ joke I will vomit. Well first I’d find out where he got his morning coffee and I’d throw it in his face (not when it’s too hot of course I’m not a monster) and I’d be like DID YOU THINK YOU WERE BEING ORIGINAL??? And then I’d vomit. Luckily we don’t have to get into all the details about what this show is about or the basics of the elements because I’m prettayyy prettayyy sure you know already, and if you don’t you can read past reviews here and here. So we get to talk about the London production and how it has improved, or worsened, since it was in previews.
Let’s start with the good. Several things have improved since my last viewing, I’m happy to say. One improvement for me was with our main man, Jamael Westman. His Alexander Hamilton is still reserved and less energetic than Lin’s, but whereas last time it made me mad (I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and be like WOULD YOU JUST PLEASE...give me the recipe! (‘Friends’ joke! I didn’t want a recipe I wanted him to show some enthusiasm but I had to finish the quote)), this time I understood it a little more. I still prefer the energy of more dynamic, vivacious Hams but I get what he’s doing. I do have to clarify, though, that while I’m praising his overall interpretation as having improved, his performance this night did have a few bad moments where the lack of energy wasn’t an acting choice but was a failing. Sometimes his words weren’t even audible. If the audience didn’t know the words, we wouldn’t have known that he had said anything at certain moments. Either he was miked poorly or he was just exhausted.
Probably the biggest standout for me was Cleve September’s Laurens/Phillip. Before, I thought he was fine, and I thought Obioma Ugoala’s Washington was the standout of the supporting men. But now, I’ve jumped clear on over to the Cleve train. It’s not that he’s better than Broadway’s Anthony Ramos (and who can compare performances like that anyway) (I mean I can) (but I won’t), it’s just that it’s easier to stand out when there’s no Daveed Diggs or Chris Jackson to combat with, and he really takes that opportunity and runs with it. His Laurens is at times moving and hilarious, and his Phillip was wonderful. The aforementioned Ugoala and Jason Pennycooke as Lafayette/Jefferson are giving wonderful performances (especially the latter) but they are pretty much the same as last time, so Cleve’s growing, improved performance shines all the more brightly.
I also wasn’t bothered by Rachelle Ann Go’s accent as much, even though my husband thinks it has actually gotten harder to understand. I think that now that I knew about the accent hurdles, I was prepared and could focus more on her performance. She plays a truly sweet Eliza that you don’t want to be sad, so when she’s sad for like the whole second act, you feel for her like you're supposed to. There’s not much to her performance but she does the necessary job. And her superb “Burn” is still one of the most heartbreaking, gorgeous moments.
Lastly, I have to applaud Sifiso Mazibuko, the principle male standby of the show who was on as Burr at this performance. It was a real disappointment not to see how Giles Terrera has progressed in his terrific performance, but Sifiso was fantastic. Despite not giving as much nuance to his character, he did a wonderful job.
Continuing with the ‘bad’, although it’s not actively bad, just disappointing. As I mentioned above, Jamael had some bits where his energy was not just lowered but was nonexistent, and the worst offender was honestly ALL of “Say No To This”. While I love how much Christine Allado does with how little Peggy has, her Maria leaves me wanting so much more. I was underwhelmed with this number last time, and it has only gotten colder. This song is supposed to be hot and fiery and full of tumultuous emotions and I found myself trying to learn the footwork of background ensemble members to keep my interest up. There’s just zero chemistry between the actors and zero energy in this number. It was a real letdown.
I also was upset that Michael Jibson was out and an understudy was on for the King. The understudy was fine – and with that role it’s impossible not to get all the laughs anyway. It’s kind of like Ogie in “Waitress” and honestly Lola in “Kinky Boots” in that even if the actors are not amazing, they will still kill it. But I really like Jibson’s hilarious performance and it would have been nice to have another chance to determine whether he deserved to Judi Dench the Oliviers.
Now to the ugly. I hate, with full force of that word, that the biggest problem I had with this production since previews has not been addressed in the least, and the theatre shows no sign of dealing with it. You’ll notice that in the previous paragraph I referred to the King’s ‘understudy’ and not to an actor by name, which is shameful. Well, I don’t know his name. Whereas on Broadway, theatres operate by the 2/3 rule (understudies are announced in 2 of 3 ways: a cast list in the entrance, a slip in the Playbill, and/or an announcement over the loudspeaker right before the curtain rises), the West End has no such policies and so understudies don’t have to be, and often aren’t, recognized. I asked the staff at the theatre where the understudies for that night were announced, if anywhere, and was told that the tiny little electronic display on one side of the lobby (across from the cloakroom), near nothing that anyone would go looking for unless they knew to go over there, had that evening’s actors on it. Like, a constantly changing display was it. I can’t even believe this. This is so unacceptable it’s offensive to the actors. I doubt many people asked about it and I doubt many even knew that understudies were on and that swings had been swung into the holes in the ensemble. I can’t think of one actually decent reason for hiding this fact from the audience, but I can think of tons of ways it sucks. The most important reason why this is a bullshit stance is that it is a disservice to the actors who have worked their whole lives and careers to be on this stage, and they deserve to get their due. Yet instead, when they go on they don’t get to be recognized for their talents. That is inexcusable. I’m shocked that a theatre group like Delfont Mackintosh isn’t doing better to change this system.
Also, audiences are getting worse and worse (is humanity worth saving? discuss) but we aren't going to talk about that today.
Aside from all the rage I have bubbling up right now for whoever is in charge of the understudy announcement decisions (I wish I knew; see coffee-based revenge fantasy, supra) and for people who exhibit boorish behavior at the opera (now that's a 'The Good Place' reference (people said they never get my pop culture references (or never realize that I'm making them literally every sentence) so here I'm trying to help ok)), I enjoyed "Hamilton" a lot this last time. It's a fine production of the greatest show, and it adds a great deal of artistry to the lackluster West End musical theatre scene.
I said we’re not going to talk about it.
It seems that a line-against-the-side-wall situation has developed for people to join, ostensibly a smart way to remove the crowd from the main sidewalk, BUT there is no security guard present. I mean. I get that stage-dooring isn’t a huge thing in London but it for sure is for this show! Get a flipping security guard there for this cast! Fans are rabid! Also if there isn’t anyone in charge to tell me (my mom) that we have to get in the line, we are (my mom is) going to line-jump. (This is where I would put that shruggie emoji. To quote Eliza in ‘That Would Be Enough’, “iiiiiiii’m not sorry.”)