2015, 2023

Hamilton Live at the Princess of Wales Theatre, March 1, 2023

We had tickets to go see Hamilton in April or May 2020 (if I’m not mistaken). Obviously, we didn’t get to go. So nearly 3 years later, 8 years after the hype machine began, we finally saw it. I mention the hype machine only because I don’t know how much of my experience of this musical was affected by hearing universal praise for basically eight years.

So I think this is very well done. It’s clear a thought of thought has been put into the music, the story and the staging. The music didn’t grab me most of the time – I do not like hip hop or R&B as you know – but musical motifs recurred in different ways, as you would expect, and it felt artful to me. (Keep in mind, I have seen/listened to only so many musicals. I am much more of an opera person.) And though I have some gripes about the story (see below), I do think it was fairly artfully told, with only one real plot point from the first half seeming unnecessary from a purely story perspective.

But, for me, the most impressive part was the staging and the choreography. A relatively simple, two-storey set with relatively little ornamentation was rendered utterly dynamic through the movement of the actors/dancers and their limited props. There were maybe two songs total where there wasn’t something happening on stage. At the middle of this was a rotating stage, with two different parts. Now, I don’t watch enough musicals to know if this is common, but this just made me all the more impressed. I’m already usually very impressed by the physicality of Broadway dancers and actors, but to do what they do, while the floor is moving under them just blew me away.

Also, I thought I the cast was mostly excellent. All accomplished singers with the guy who played Burr standing out especially. I have one quibble with the cast, but I honestly don’t know who (or what) to blame it on. It’s possible it was on the cast as much as it was on the other things.

So: I didn’t like Hamilton particularly. I’ve spent time highlighting what I thought were its virtues because I think, mostly, my not liking Hamilton is more on me that it is on Hamilton itself. I think I know why other people like it so much. But it wasn’t for me.

Let’s talk about the story first: as Jenn pointed out at intermission, there is way too much love triangle stuff for a musical that is about a supposedly neglected Founding Father. It also isn’t Chekhov’s Love Triangle, if you know what I mean – it doesn’t go anywhere. (That was the part of the plot I thought really wasn’t well thought-out.)

But there are bigger problems: it’s just not funny enough, for one. I know, not every musical has to be a musical comedy, but I pretty much only like musical comedies. But something like this, especially, I think needs to have humour. There was some, but it was mostly the odd gag and The King (who I looked forward to every time because he was a break from the rest of it). I might have missed some jokes because of a problem I had, which I will get to in a second, but I really don’t think there was enough humour.

The other, equally big, problem is that I like my art-as-history to be critical history. And this isn’t critical history. I understand some people might think it is, but it’s not. It’s entirely too reverent. Jenn and I go to see these critical history plays about Canada (every few years) and the knife is just so much sharper. I don’t want hero worship in a musical, in a play, in a movie, in a novel. I’m not particularly interested in being told a man was Great But Flawed, even if everyone feels like he’s under appreciated. (I should also mention I once read Gore Vidal’s Burr and have been on his side ever since.)

In addition to the story issues, I had an issue with the actual performance that I’m not sure who to blame: at times I got maybe 40% of the words in the raps and, when everyone was singing, I could often not make out what was being sung. Now, maybe my hearing is going as I age, but I’ve always had above average hearing, so I’m not sure this is on me.

For the raps: were the performers not enunciating enough? was the speed at which they rapped too fast? am I just the wrong audience for rap because I am not used to having to listen closely to each syllable? I don’t know. Is this on the cast or the creator or the director? I don’t know.

For the group singing, the culprit is much more obvious: this is a loud show, everyone is miced and the mix seemed off. I don’t remember every single person on stage being micd in previous shows I’ve seen, but maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, the volume wasn’t adjusted appropriately when they were all singing, meaning the right voices didn’t stand out from the rest. This may just be a fault of this particular version of the tour, or it might be a problem with the show as a whole.

So I know why you like it, and I think it was relatively artfully done. So I’ll give it a 7/10 because lower feels not fair. But it definitely didn’t live up to the hype for me.


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