‘How does a bastard, immigrant, son of a whore and a Scotsman’… grow up to be one of America’s founding fathers? If you’re in London, you can find out in November. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking musical Hamilton is finally coming to the West End.
The first tickets went on pre-sale on January 16, with the rest on general sale on January 30, via the official Hamilton website, the Delfont Mackintosh website (home of super-producer Cameron Mackintosh), and Ticketmaster.
Producers in London have been cautiously awaiting news of the show’s pricing scheme, after the New York production sent Broadway’s commercial conventions into meltdown. NYC’s Hamilton was plagued with ticket touts: prices on the secondary market peaked at $2,500 per ticket, little of which made its way back into the pockets of anyone responsible for the show’s success. No one in theatreland wants to jack up prices in the primary market up to those levels, not least because the broader industry is fighting a hard battle to prove theatre can be accessible. But if a hit show has become such a valuable commodity, shouldn’t its creators be able to sell their labour for its maximum value?
Part of the answer is to make life harder for the scalpers. Ticket buyers at Hamilton will be issued paperless tickets, with entry tied to ID. (A similar scheme was trialled for Benedict Cumberbatch’s appearance in Hamlet, although in practice ID checks were rarely enforced – which is how I ended up there during its controversial previews.) As a result, Hamilton’s London producers have done a good job of keeping some ticket prices affordable, with lowest prices at £37.50 (£32.50 in its mercifully short preview season), and a daily lottery offering the chance to buy at £20. At the top level, however, it’s steeper – £200 for ‘premium seats’. One hopes this isn’t an extension of the dire West End trend of adding a free glass of champagne to good seat and flogging it as an elite experience.
Should you leap in the queue? Broadly, yes. I saw the show in New York in the spring, and since then the original cast album has been the soundtrack to my life, taking me from the morning commute to far too many evenings dancing around my bedroom in PJs. That’s hardly unusual. I challenge anyone to see the show, drink in Miranda’s unconventional mix of hip-hop beats and Broadway ballad, and not download the album within 24 hours of exiting the theatre. His songs about power, politics and ambition have become the anthem to a generation.
And Alexander Hamilton’s story has always been ripe for drama. Illegitimate, born into poverty, he rose to become one of the leaders of a new nation. Then he died in a tragic duel – after a sex scandal. It’s hot stuff, and that’s even if you’re not a fan of pragmatic central banking.
What’s less certain is that Hamilton will maintain the longevity in the West End that it enjoys on Broadway. This is a deeply American story, the chauvinism of American exceptionalism scored into its grain. Donald Trump might not like the show, but it’s a paean to the very style of meritocracy he loves to represent. Hamilton, ‘the Founding Father without a father’ becomes a big, bling winner and on the way, he even learns the Art of the Deal. At one point, he allows Thomas Jefferson to pick the new US capital in return for gaining total financial power in the US government. Or as he sings with his nemesis, Aaron Burr: ‘You got more than you gave.’ ‘And I wanted what I got.’
Sure, Hamilton is progressive as far as US politics goes. The much-vaunted racial diversity of its casting is central to the show’s delight in America as a melting pot: message and medium in perfect unity. Nothing can describe the electricity in a NYC auditorium as the charismatic black actor, Christopher Jackson, strides onto the stage in the costume of George Washington. Hamilton teaches Americans of colour that the Founding Fathers can belong to them. Hamilton sings of America as ‘a great unfinished symphony’, promising racial harmony somewhere over the rainbow. Will that have the same impact outside America, in a nation of subtly differing racial politics? Not quite.
Perhaps there’s so much musical talent in the show’s score that none of this will matter. As it is, the sheer number of patriotic Americans in London can probably fill houses for the first two years. Most importantly, Hamilton is witty. The lyrics sparkle; the jokes pop. Make sure you get a ticket. Just don’t count on it still playing London in five years time.
Kate Maltby is a theatre critic for The Times