Not a review of The Real Thing in the real Victoria Palace theatre, although I will get round to doing that some day when I’ve sorted out all my Emotions about it; no, these are just some notes about the gorgeous deckle-edged hardback that is the theatrical equivalent of a making of documentary.
It’s not just a pretty coffee-table book, though it certainly is that: as well as a full libretto annotated by Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s got a series of thirty-two essays on everything from costumes to choreography, a whistle-stop backstage tour of how Hamilton got made, as well as full-page, full-colour illustrations of the original (American) cast doing their thing (printed on heavy matt paper rather than the usual gloss, which doesn’t affect the photographs as much as you’d think it would).
Which all means that it’s well worth reading for a Hamilton fan, in the sense that it has actual real content that people have spent time and care producing, and it’s fascinating in the way that theatre always is. If anything, I would have liked more, but then that was probably inevitable.
It can be a bit over-the-top. It talks about Hamilton as if it’s the Second Coming. Which. I mean, Hamilton is, like, amazing, and cleverer than any musical has any right to be, and very successful, but I’m sceptical of claims that it changes the face of theatre or anything like that. Race-bending was a thing before Hamilton. Gilbert and Sullivan set clever wordplay to music a century or so before Lin-Manuel Miranda was born. Hamilton misrepresents history (George Washington was a slaver and a racist, as I keep telling anyone who’ll listen), under-characterises its women and has no queer representation. And those are only the flaws that annoy me most.
But I can hardly blame the book for overlooking them. It’s a companion book, after all, not a critical study (though, I would totally read one of those). And it is very lovely. I shall stroke it, and treasure it, and look at the pretty pictures.