Review: Opening night of Hamilton at Manchester’s Palace Theatre

For theatre lovers, Hamilton heading to Manchester is a huge deal. Direct from the West End, the multi award-winning masterpiece by Lin-Manuel Miranda made its debut at Manchester’s Palace Theatre on Saturday, November 11 – and I was one of the lucky fans to get a ticket for its opening night.

Hamilton’s arrival in Manchester marks a cultural milestone for the city, underscoring the North’s growing prominence as a hub for world-class theatre, while attracting more diverse audiences and making theatre more accessible to those outside of London. In other words, it gives more people an opportunity to be ‘in the room where it happens’.

For those unfamiliar with the musical, it tells the story of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War. It documents the rise and fall of the ambitious social climber who helped shape the very foundations of the America we know today.

The groundbreaking production is the winner of 11 Tony Awards – including Best Musical – as well as seven Olivier Awards, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. It’s safe to say that there’s been some buzz around the show, but it doesn’t matter how many times you rewatch it on Disney+, nothing compares to seeing it brought to life on stage.

As ticket holders shuffled into their seats, the opening night of Hamilton brought with it a tidal wave of excitement and high expectations – and from the first note to the final bow and full standing ovation, it’s safe to say that Hamilton exceeded everything we wanted it to be and more. 

From the energetic opening number, ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the ensemble cast established an infectious energy that set the tone for the entire evening. Directed by Thomas Kail with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, this extension of the main cast moves effortlessly with mesmerisingly choreographed movements adding depth to the story, which is told through a phenomenal score blending hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway. And if you thought Hamilton was like any musical you’ve seen before, you’d be wrong – Hamilton is sung and rapped in its entirety, with no break for dialogue or spoken narration.

Additionally, Miranda makes a conscious and intentional decision to cast diverse actors in Hamilton, which makes a powerful statement about inclusivity that will surely resonate with a Mancunian audience – and what a cast it is.

Shaq Taylor has some big shoes to fill as Hamilton, particularly if you’ve seen the show – or the Disney+ version – previously and already have a preconceived idea of how the character is portrayed. Shaq brought a magnetic energy to the stage, embodying the complex character with a perfect blend of charisma and vulnerability. His commanding stage presence made it easy to see how people could fall for Hamilton’s charm, while his vocal delivery never missed a beat. The performance captured the ups and downs of Hamilton’s struggles and triumphs, from his relentless ambition, to his quieter moments of reflection and regret. And even though he was a somewhat controversial character, you can’t help but find yourself rooting for him. In the hands of Shaq Taylor, Alexander Hamilton really comes to life on stage in a way that makes you forget the likes of Lin Manuel Miranda and Jamael Westman have stepped into his shoes previously, which will no doubt contribute to the overall success of the production as an incredibly likeable actor.

The Schuyler Sisters, played by Aisha Jawando (Angelica), Maya Britto (Eliza) and Gabriella Benedetti (Peggy), could give Destiny’s Child a run for their money, that’s for certain. Their harmonies are as tight as their on-stage chemistry and sisterly relationship. As the charismatic Angelica, Aisha exudes confidence and sass, while Maya’s Eliza radiates warmth, and Gabriella’s innocent Peggy portrays her as less rebellious than her sisters. The feminine energy they bring to the male dominated world of American politics is exactly what Hamilton needs and frankly I think we need a Schuyler Sisters spin-off show just for these three. 

Maya does a wonderful job at executing Eliza’s role and her relationship with Hamilton. She skillfully navigates the emotional spectrum from the giddy excitement of ‘Helpless’ to the heart-wrenching vulnerability of ‘Burn’, her vocal prowess owning the stage with intricate riffs and power. The use of minimalist props and clever lighting made for a more intimate production, too, allowing the focus to remain on the characters, particularly in the aforementioned ‘Burn’ and ‘That Would Be Enough’, where there was nothing to distract from the raw emotion on stage.

Sam Oladeinde’s portrayal of Aaron Burr brought a compelling complexity to his character – he really is one of those you find yourself conflicted over, loving him, hating him, feeling sorry for him. Sam’s performance did a fantastic job at capturing his internal conflicts, personal turmoil and calculated ‘talk less, smile more’ demeanour. One of the highlights of the show for me was the powerfully emotive bridge of ‘Wait For It’, and I’m getting chills just thinking about it. There’s a real controlled intensity to Burr’s character where he doesn’t give much away, but there is so much depth to him that will leaves a lasting impression on the audience.

Injecting some much needed comedy is Daniel Boys as King George, offering a regal presence and impeccable comedic timing. His rendition of ‘You’ll Be Back’ was a show-stopping, tongue-in-cheek anthem, delivered with a perfect balance of theatrical flair and cheeky British wit, while his brief cameo appearances throughout added a lightness to what might otherwise have been a heavy history lesson.

While I would (and easily could) write a love letter to each and every cast member, I’ll finish with a special mention to Billy Nevers for his effortless transition from Marquis de Lafayette in Act One, to Thomas Jefferson in the second half. Billy is a larger than life actor who really brought a lot of fun to this production with his portrayal of Lafayette, who gives a flawless delivery of his iconic rap and his groove is impeccable. You might think it difficult to shake off the Frenchman when he returns as Thomas Jefferson after the interlude, but the switch is seamless. As Jefferson, he commanded the stage with a suave, delivering further rap-battle-esque numbers with a finesse. 

The music, underpinned by a live orchestra, added vibrancy and authenticity to the show, while the minimalist set design remained versatile and impactful – the rotating stage creating a visual feast particularly during full-cast numbers.

As the final notes of the closing number, ‘Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story’, echoed through the theatre, the audience erupted in thunderous applause and a full standing ovation. Hamilton had not only lived up to the hype but surpassed it entirely. 

The show’s underlying themes of ambition, legacy, and the cost of power, its ability to blend history with hip hop, coupled with outstanding performances and innovative storytelling, truly make it one of the must-see musical productions of a generation. The buzz surrounding this production is well-earned, and for those fortunate enough to witness the opening night at the Palace Theatre, it was an unforgettable experience. You really did have to be in the room where it happened – so don’t throw away your shot to catch this trailblazing production in ‘the greatest city in the world’.

Tickets are still available to purchase via the Palace Theatre website, with Hamilton running right the way through until February 2024.


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