For the British cast of "Hamilton," there's nothing ironic about its London success

Meet the British cast of London's "Hamilton"
Meet the British cast of London's "Hamilton" 05:57

Of all the musicals that have crossed the Atlantic, "Hamilton" may have arrived with the most baggage. It is, after all, about the American Revolutionary War, which the British famously lost. So how would British audiences take to a show about the winners? Easy, it turns out. That was then, this is now.

Before the show burst onto the scene, Alexander Hamilton, the once little-known founding father of the American Revolution, was even less known across the Atlantic. Not anymore.

What had blown away Broadway – the punchy hip-hop beats, the rap-style lyrics, the white founding fathers played by actors of color – blew away the cobwebs of stereotype from London's West End theater district just as quickly, reports CBS News' Mark Phillips. 

Jamael Westman, the hometown actor who plays Hamilton, wasn't surprised.

Jamael Westman plays Alexander Hamilton in London

"We can see today that both American history and British history is wrapped up in, if you think about current political climates as it were, or world politics, we are very much intertwined in each other's history. The choices that we make here or the choices that are made in America will affect everyone," Westman said.

Still, could a British cast accomplish what an American cast had done in New York? Rachel John, South London through and through, plays one of Hamilton's romantic interests, Angelica Schuyler. Giles Terera, also a Londoner to the core, won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his take on Hamilton's nemesis, Aaron Burr.

The trick, they say, is to not letting the acclaim of the Broadway show raise the pressure too much. The show's success in New York may have meant its fame preceded it, but there was another danger — history. How would a musical about an American victory and a British defeat in the U.S. war of independence play here?

Giles Terera, Jamael Westman and Rachel John of the London "Hamilton" cast CBS News

"The way he writes it's not really about Britain losing, it's about – it's about that group of people gaining their independence and being free," Terera said.

There is one slight adjustment in the play here. The character of the British king at the time, George III, is played a bit more for laughs – less, perhaps, as a villain. He's a big hit. So is the play – sold out, of course. The place may be different, but the themes are universal. 

"There's a line, which is a famous line, which is, 'Immigrants, we get the job done!' And that resonates with the people in America and it resonates with audiences here," Terera said. 

Britain, too, has its immigrant story and the London cast of Hamilton is part of it.

"A generation of people and their children who were brought over to rebuild the country after the war and work on buses, work in hospitals – my mother was a nurse," Terera said. "My mother too," Rachel John chimed in.

"And so, whether it's now, or whether it's 250 years ago or [in] 200 years' time, you kind of think if someone's that brilliant at writing that will, that will speak to different people in different countries at different times."

One difference between the New York and London productions is that in London they've managed to keep scalping ticket prices down. Only the person who originally bought the ticket can use it and you have to show ID to get in.