Coming to Disney+ earlier than expected due to the current global pandemic, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical Hamilton has fans going crazy all over the country. And rightly so – it’s smart and witty in every single way.
Filmed by Thomas Kail (director) and Declan Quinn (cinematographer) in front of a live audience at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the movie follows forgotten American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and his ascent out of poverty, fighting against the backdrop of an American war of Independence. While not a documentary in style, it is a document of a moment of revolution, of popular culture, a progressive, multicultural patriotic moment in history. We watch as Alexander Hamilton takes his shot, joining up with revolutionaries to change the world.
Long before the movie, Hamilton premiered at New York’s Public Theatre in early 2015 before moving to Broadway and into every nook and cranny of our culture. It’s fans have listened to the soundtrack on repeat, have pin badges and posters of the characters on their walls – it’s a cultural phenomenon and the release of the movie has fans resurfacing to show their love for this show.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a hatred for all things musicals. Now, don’t get me wrong I enjoy the likes of Mamma Mia and High School Musical (no judgement here please, this is a safe space) primarily, because there’s dialogue in between. But I absolutely cannot stand Les Misérables. I think I actually gave up half-way through because a) it was boring b) I had no idea what was going on as the songs drove the plot-line and I forgot to pay attention to the lyrics. That’s why I was extremely cautious and nervous to watch Hamilton due to my preconceived notion that I would hate it. But I gave it a go (primarily because one of my closest friends absolutely adores it and I had to give it a chance for her) And oh how shocked I was to find that I absolutely loved it. I was blown away.
Firstly, the sheer scope of this production astounded me. It has cabinet debates, pamphlet wars, backroom dealing, politics, love marriage and children and a whole load of revolution, It deals with the glory and complexity of self-government, leaving us reflecting on America’s past and future. Then there’s the cast. Lin Manuel Miranda plays the focus character Alexander Hamilton exceptionally well, bringing to life his arrogance, his desire to over-achieve, his outspokenness, but above all his insecurities. Who really stood out for me the most was Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr. The perfect foil to Hamilton, his rival, his intellectual equal, he is the much more strategic opposite to Alex. He’s always on stage, in the background, counting his bets, waiting for his moment. He’s also got some of the best lyrics in the show.
And let’s not forget the wonderfully hilarious, dandyish Jefferson played by the amazing Daveed Digs. Playing both Jefferson and the flamboyant revolutionary Marquis de Lafayette, he truly steals the show, making me laugh at the most unexpected moments. These actors bring to life complicated, nuanced characters that are relatable, developed and extremely interesting. I honestly think without such a developed plot with developed characters, this play wouldn’t be half of what it is. But let’s not forget the songs. With lines such as “baby I’m a trust fund, you should trust me”, each hit is smart, quick-witted and energetic. Hamilton is a hip-hop musical at its heart and if a song wasn’t making me bop my head to the beat, it had me tearing up.
And then there’s the stage. I haven’t seen Hamilton as a live performance so please forgive me for having nothing to compare to but personally, I believe Thomas Kail does a brilliant job of bringing the stage to life through his camera work. It’s hard to bring the magic of a performance to life through a recorded version, as I have noticed through National Theatre’s Live productions on YouTube. However, Kail allows his camera to drift across the stage from character to character coupled with overhead shots that highlight the excellent choreography of the cast, we’re treated to something we wouldn’t ever see in theatre. This is also evident in how we’re privy to close-up shots of actors, Jonathan Groff’s little grimaces and rage-spits coming primarily to mind, entirely enhancing the charisma of every performance.
Oh and the staging itself moved me to tears. The circular moving turn-table, while most definitely would have been more effective within a theatre, had me gasping from the comfort of my bed. That *one* scene where you-know-who dies and his body moves around the stage – it was absolutely beautiful and divine. I was blown away.
I take back everything bad I ever said about Hamilton, it’s a show woven with brilliantly lyric-ed songs, brilliantly cast actors, well-developed characters with an excellent thesis surrounding legacy and American history as an open book. I thoroughly recommend watching the film and I will jump at any opportunity to watch this production live post-lockdown.