HAMILTON (directed by Thomas Kail, 180 minutes, USA, 2020)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Originally planned for a fall 2021 release, it’s hard to see Disney’s move to drop the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning musical Hamilton on their proprietary platform FREE to subscribers on July 3rd as anything less than a response to current events. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip hop musical about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton tapped into the politico/sociocultural zeitgeist, generating the kind of rabid fandom usually reserved for things like Marvel or Star Wars. After a bidding war, Disney copped the theatrical rights to the performance filmed at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016, two weeks before the parting of not only Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton), but Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr), and Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton).
What often gets lost in the breathless headlines about astronomical ticket prices and the social media bragging rights bestowed on those lucky or deep-pocketed enough to land a seat in “the room where it happens” is the fact that Hamilton’s story of a poor immigrant who works his way up from nothing to become a Founding Father of this great country has never been more relevant that it is today. While the production pre-dates the Age of Trump, Lin-Manuel’s transposition of the race and language of the cast of Hamilton has become a de facto touchstone of The Resistance. Hamilton keeps the audience ruminating on its themes of power, race and family with its super-catchy hybrid of traditional Broadway tropes, R&B motifs and banging hip-hop.
Given the closure of Broadway due to the Pandemic and the trend to stream performances to satiate theater audiences, I’ve definitely seen more than my fair share of shows recently. As you’d expect, Hamilton is filmed as a stage show, but the camera is not satisfied to give you just a stageside view. The camera moves rather dynamically on stage and even gives us moments where we are face to face with our cast, and it’s here Hamilton really shines. Since the cast at the time it was filmed was three years into a Broadway run and the show was at its peak, you have that passion, that confidence and that comfortability in their roles and performances, that feels effortless as they run through the musical. In these brief character moments you witness actors not simply going through the motions, but putting in fully nuanced performances that have been honed to perfection, that would have been virtually invisible otherwise.
Watching Hamilton on Disney+, I have to say it’s still pretty damn great. I really hope now that it’s been made more accessible more people will discover and be inspired by it — people who may not really be into musicals or the hefty price tag of theatre tickets. The biggest take away here for those that may have only caught the touring version or heard the cast recording, is how utterly awe-inspiring it is to see Lin-Manuel inhabit the role of Alexander Hamilton onscreen, commanding the stage and spitting the bars that made him a household name as the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore Scotsman.” In these are difficult times it’s nice to see both the themes and music of Hamilton still work their magic and remind us of a time when we as a people stood together against an invading enemy.