Hamilton in Abu Dhabi review: Broadway brilliance is worth the hype

There's plenty to enjoy as excellent cast hit the high notes of 2015 original

The musical tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Photo: Hamilton International Tour
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When Hamilton first hit the Broadway stage in 2015, the musical theatre world was sent into a frenzy by the palpable ambition of creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

For starters, it's a rapped and sung piece of historical fiction that retells the intricacies of the late 17th and early 18th-century American government. It focuses on Alexander Hamilton, the right-hand man of then-president George Washington during the country's war with the UK, who went on to found the country's first bank.

It also features other leading political names of that time, such as Thomas Jefferson and King George III – all seemingly resurrected in the bodies of pop, RnB and hip-hop artists. It strings together catchy verses packed with distilled historical references, making the period piece surprisingly accessible even to those who have no prior knowledge of the events themselves.

Controversial material aside, the production proved bulletproof, earning it critical acclaim at the time, with 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical. With such success, it's no surprise that, almost nine years later, the show still resonates with audiences – such as the eager theatregoers who filled up Etihad Arena on the show's second night in Abu Dhabi.

The energy intensified by the minute before the show even started, fuelled even more by the sight of David Korin's Tony-nominated stage design. As the opening hip-hop number drops, it cements the notion that this is the sort of music I want to hear live over and over – even though I've had it on loop in my car for almost a decade and watched (and re-watched) the stage performance on Disney+.

It makes the controversies surrounding Miranda's sanitised account of American history easier to ignore as the show goes on. The musical, as it should, pays more diligence to the theatrical elements that make it a feast for the ears and the eyes, much less on it being a dogmatic archive of the past.

While the music numbers demand vast technical skills, the company in Abu Dhabi does not disappoint.

The titular role is played by Jason Arrow, who previously told The National his main challenge was carving his own niche for the character. From my vantage point, the American performer achieves his goal, from his “young, hungry and scrappy” vibe in My Shot down to his gripping demise in Hurricane. Unlike Miranda, who originally played the role, Arrow has a capable vocal range, adding more charm to his portrayal.

Opposite him is DeAundre' Woods who plays Hamilton's rival Aaron Burr with a more reticent approach to the character compared to Leslie Odom Jr's fervid depiction of the historical figure. This tenderness runs the risk of being too stale though, especially in some of the show's biggest numbers Wait For It and The Room Where It Happens, where a certain level of gusto is needed to hit a musical home run. Still, Woods's Burr is capable enough to land the proverbial plane successfully.

Rachel Ann Go's portrayal of Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton's scorned wife, is nuanced, delivering on the character's emotional depth and giving Phillipa Soo, the original Eliza, a run for her money.

Go joined the West End production in 2017. Reprising the role of Eliza, she appears more comfortable than other cast members singing and is equally as capable on the acting front. The actress navigates her character arc with fluidity and precision, from being lovestruck in Helpless, indignant in Burn and melancholic in It's Quiet Uptown (even though she doesn't sing here).

Darnell Abraham's George Washington is truly presidential, with the actor turning in the best vocal performance of the night in One Last Time. David Park, playing both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, as well as Brent Hill, who gives life to King George III, provide the three-hour show's much-needed comic relief.

My point is – if you are anything like me, who's thoroughly attached to the original Broadway cast's performances, do not fret. The international touring company does a more-than-decent job of recreating the magic of the 2015 original production.

And if, like me, you have been waiting for years to see the show in the flesh, go grab a ticket, as the magic definitely has more gravitas live, from the stellar performances to the captivating music and the stagecraft.

Yes, the Disney+ version is a valid option, but there's really no better place to experience the best of Hamilton than in the room where, well, it actually happens.

Hamilton runs until February 11 at the Etihad Arena; tickets, from Dh180, are available at abu-dhabi.platinumlist.net

Updated: January 19, 2024, 3:18 PM