Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Faking history

The lyrics have grandeur, majesty, romance, comedy – but the work pretends that 18th century black and white Americans existed on terms of equality

It’s all about the rhythm. Hamilton is a musical that tells the story of America’s foundation through the medium of rap. It sounds crazy but it works because the show’s arsenal of effects is simply overwhelming. The lyrics drive the narrative, the rap gives energy to the lyrics, and the dancers double the effect by adding a visual complement to the pulsing soundscape. Dramatic lighting, synchronised with the music, provides a final sensory flourish. It’s like being softly slapped across the face with a beautiful velvet glove. The set is a luxuriantly solid affair, like a five-star hotel inspired by Wild West themes. Two wooden staircases soar up towards a raised gallery draped with thick lassos. Dancing girls in white corsets and super-tight jodhpurs slink around the stage, pouting, posing, displaying their trim curves.

The show’s lyrics are sometimes witty, sometimes clunky. On the page they look feeble. ‘What is a legacy? Planting seeds you never get to see.’ That quote seems artless and lazy but performed on stage, and backed up by an aggressive martial rhythm, the line has a vibrancy that the printed word can’t evoke. And the rap idiom proves surprisingly flexible. Everyone knows that rap is an ideal conduit for the expression of impotent and churlish rage, but here it finds new registers: grandeur, majesty, romance, comedy.

We first meet Hamilton as a tough young lawyer in New York determined to join the rebellion against British rule. The war of independence starts and Hamilton lobbies to be given a command. He’s rebuffed but when he urges a platoon of soldiers to seize British artillery at Brooklyn he attracts the attention of General Washington. With the future president behind him, Hamilton’s career takes off. After the war, he becomes involved in the lengthy series of conferences that led to the creation of the United States.

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