THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
This is one for the hardened Hamilton fans - and there are lots of them. It’s a thoughtful and generous insider account of the creation of the West End production of the show from Giles Terera, who played Hamilton’s ultimate nemesis Aaron Burr.
In this personal journal Terera describes his journey from first being told you MUST listen to this, to the first audition in New York, the long wait, the final news he was cast and one year later the West End opening, where the excitement and anticipation was off the scale. He ended up garnering raves, of course, and winning the Olivier award.
Terera, just in the past few years, has become one of the UK’s leading actors with a solid track record in both the classics (lots of Shakespeare) and in musicals. He has a parallel career as a singer/songwriter and we reviewed the thrilling solo concert of his own material here.
This is a book about process and is packed with insights and tricks into how ‘An Actor Prepares’ as Stanislavski put it. For a role as big as this (in every respect) all the talent and training and discipline had to coalesce at one moment and he needed the resilience to cope with the doubt and panic which plagues every actor. Of course, he’d seen the Broadway production and like most of us was humming the tunes, so it wasn’t a total blank page, but he still had to find his own way in. You get a sense of a big musical being a mosaic, with each stone being polished to perfection and then carefully put in place.
Knowledge of Hamilton the show will certainly help as Terera gets deep into the weeds of the key songs and the plot points and also the discoveries from his wide reading around the lives of Burr and Hamilton.
If you’re looking for juicy backstage gossip, it isn’t really that kind of book. He’s very coy for example about what precisely Cameron Mackintosh said to him in his dressing just before opening night which moved him so much. No confidences are broken here and if anything, this deep respect for everyone lends it a blandness. There’s an amazing esprit de corps but you do wonder.
Because of this you don’t really get a fly-on-the-wall insight. Terera was living it and it was very intense, but this is just his perspective. Another book would need to be written by a more omniscient narrator to give us a wider frame, but of course nobody would be given that kind of access at that crucial stage. On balance he’s probably been too cautious. It was, after all, a surefire hit and unless they were going to really mess it up, which was never going to happen with the original creative team very much in control, this wasn’t a risky prospect.
Instant classic is a terrible, overused, expression but Hamilton became exactly that, because of its sheer quality and how it caught the zeitgeist. There will be lots more written about it no doubt, but this is a good start and a superb primer for any young person with dreams of treading the boards in musical theatre.