In the now-shuttered world of musical theatre the name “Hamilton” is said in hushed reverential tones. The groundbreaking show, which mixes-and-matches hip hop, R&B, pop, soul and traditional show tunes to tell the story of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, was called “the phenomenon of the season, perhaps of a generation,” by Forbes. Its appeal to a younger audience, who packed NYC’s Richard Rodgers Theater night after night, gave Broadway a desperately needed shot in the arm and at one point the show was responsible for more than 5% of the Broadway districts total gross.
A new, filmed version, headed by creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, offers up a chance for people who couldn’t afford to blow a mortgage payment on tickets to the original production, to watch the show from the comfort of their Disney+ stream.
The movie, shot in June 2016 at the height of “Hamilton”-mania is anything but hushed or reverential. The show, which features a diverse cast including Black, LatinX and Asian actors to tell the story described as being about “America then, as told by America now,” is passionately political, raucously rebellious and emotionally deep. “Just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry,” Miranda sings in a phrase that could be about the musical as much as it is Hamilton’s personality.
A toe-tapping history lesson, the show details the American Dream life of Hamilton, from an outsider born to unwed parents on the Caribbean island of Nevis to war hero to George Washington’s Revolutionary War aide, and, as first Secretary of Treasury under Washington’s administration, the founder of America’s economic system. It’s a bootstrap story about legacy, reputation, honor and if that wasn’t enough, there’s an extra-marital affair and, of course, the fateful duel with Aaron Burr.
Director Thomas Kail, who also directed the show’s Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, keeps the camera work to a minimum, simply and effectively capturing the show from a front row center perspective. It’s handsome work that tries to preserve the integrity of the live presentation while still creating a kind of cinematic experience.
As far as the show goes, what the filmed “Hamilton” presents is a moment in time when the musical lived at the very center of pop culture. The original cast, including Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs and Jonathan Groff among many others, are working a peak form. As a document of a special show the filmed version doesn’t add anything to the presentation, but perhaps that’s the point. Miranda’s daring, genre busting show speaks for itself, often with beautiful tongue-twisting wordplay, and doesn’t need flashy cinematic theatrics to bolster what is already a provocative and timely story of creating a union where none existed.