It seems there just may be an upside to the global pandemic, in the form of Hamilton ‘the movie.’
A filmed version of the hit Broadway musical was due to be released on the big screen in 2021. Instead Disney nabbed the rights and has fast-tracked it to Streaming. Now you don’t need a plane or Broadway ticket (neither of which are readily available) to experience this exhilarating production.
Filmed in 2016 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, on a largely spartan stage, this production is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (His Dark Materials, Fosse / Verdon): book, lyrics and music. If that’s not enough he also stars in the title role. The man is simply a genius.
Hamilton is a towering work.
Building on his success with In the Heights, the score comprises hip-hop, jazz, R&B and traditional music theatre to weave its magic across an often-overlooked chapter in American History: how a West Indies immigrant Alexander Hamilton, helped ratify the American Constitution.
To bring a new perspective to this biography director Thomas Kail (Grease Live) uses a predominantly Black and Latino cast, including for the roles of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and more.
The pace ignites like dynamite as recitative meets hip hop and finger snappin’. American history was never so cool, riffing on a revolving stage. A massive 46 tunes, of varying length unfold -many linking seamlessly from scene to scene or within them.
At the heart of the story is Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) whose ambitions for change in a young New York lock horns with the establishment and risk being derailed by his own habit of talking way too much. But he bonds with young revolutionaries, marries Eliza (Phillipa Soo) and is hired by George Washington (Christopher Jackson) to fight the Brits in the American War of Independence.
Jonathan Groff (Looking) almost steals the show as King George III, who warns America, “I will send you a full battalion to remind you of my love.” It’s possibly the best ruler cameo since Pilate’s turn in Jesus Christ Superstar.
Hamilton is full of wry, woke observations as it twists history books, including Angelica’s (Renée Elise Goldsberry) retort to Jefferson’s notion that all men are created equal: “I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!”
The politics of it all is sometimes complex, but the staging by Kail is brilliantly creative (ok make that 2 geniuses) right up to its spellbinding final act, with dazzling choreography from Andy Blankenbuehler. The net effect is something akin to Assassins meets Les Miserables meets a 50 Cent concert. Curiously for Disney, there are occasional adult themes and language…
But it is singing we are here for. The ensemble are triple threats, rippling in vocals as well as in biceps.
Leslie Odom Jr. stops the show as lawyer and vice president Aaron Burr with “The Room Where it Happens”, Renée Elise Goldsberry is exquisite in her intimate “Satisfied” and Phillipa Soo is captivating with her emotional solos such as “Burn.” Daveed Diggs also brings humour to his dual roles Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson -including his very own drop the mic moment.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a tour de force in the title role, and the audience at this filmed production are clearly on board from the get-go.
I can only imagine this is a helluva night of exhilarating, empowering theatre.
Hamilton airs Friday on Disney+