Why ‘Hamilton’ Will Work In London
You might have noticed that a play written in a mix of hip hop and show tunes about an energetic writer of the US constitution and a British villain created a freakishly intense fever of ticket-buying in New York. Tickets are now on sale in London to an audience that’s less stand-and-applaud and a little more more ‘meh’ – so will ‘Hamilton’ work here?
Well, did you think a musical about an obscure American religious sect would run in London? ‘The Book of Mormon’ is still packing ’em in. I didn’t rate it much, but it’s clearly doing something right.
Or is it?
The show is being endlessly propped up by advertising, rumoured to be paid out of the deep, deep pockets of the Mormons themselves. Disney own and finance a whole raft of mediocre, blank-faced musicals that get shipped around the world, lurid sausages pouring from the fairytale mincing machine in Hollywood. A simple lesson has been learned; if you fund it, they will come. Bus sides and tube posters tout ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’ every week of the year, and the longer they stay the more they earn back for the companies behind them.
Which rather leaves sharp new UK plays with their limited budgets pushed to one side and out in the cold. ‘Hamilton’ is already sitting on such a pile of cash that it will stay on even if half the theatre has to be papered. Going to see it will become a mark of social currency. But another racially-charged show with a far more powerful message, ‘The Scotsboro Boys’, struggled to make its mark in the West End.
‘Hamilton’ marketing made a smart move – they released the soundtrack way in advance of the show’s opening. It’s not particularly catchy, but there are some nice riffs and it’s densely assembled with a lot to chew over, so – shrewdly done.
Meanwhile the press is already falling for the PT Barnum sell, penning articles on ‘How you can get tickets for Hamilton’. I don’t care much for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music (he added negligible songs to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and wrote the sugary ‘In The Heights’, which I left halfway through) but the true-life story is a rich and fascinating one – I just wish it had been done as a straight play.