Phew. Where to start?!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the size of the Taj Mahal for the past two years, you’ve heard of Hamilton. Though you may not know much other than the fact that it’s a multiple Tony award-winning Broadway musical, you definitely will have heard of its existence. Created by Lin Manuel-Miranda, this is the story of the Founding Fathers, and in particular – you guessed it – the life of Alexander Hamilton. Lin describes his show as ‘a hip-hop musical’, which sounds horrendous (on paper at least.) We are taken through Hamilton’s life from age 19 onwards; again, which sounds horrendously boring on paper. However, the folks at Disney+ bought the rights to it so that those in lockdown during the pandemic could still get their dose of theatrical goodness despite not being allowed to set foot in a theatre.
Some *cough* Kermode and Mayo *cough* have touted this streamed version of a live stage show to be ”not a movie”, but you know what? I don’t care. There is a story, some very technical camera work, complicated and uninterrupted direction, and a cinematic score to boot. In short, this is not your usual trip to the theatre, but rather it gives every audience member the same seat in the auditorium, with close-ups of the pain and anguish and shock and enlightenment in each actor’s face – something that can be difficult to see in a live production when you’re sat up in the nosebleed seats. As a result of everything just mentioned, one can interpret this as a piece of cinema without question, and the gang at Empire agree. So there.
The most instantly striking facet of this show is the ethnic and cultural diversity within it. Hamilton acts as proof that a diverse cast does not hinder your art. If anything, it makes your art better. In fact, this musical has done so well in part because every lead role (minus King George) is portrayed by a non-white actor. There are African American stars, Hispanic leads, and the role of Eliza is taken here by Phillipa Soo; an extremely talented leading lady with Chinese heritage. Again, this is living proof that diversity not only improves multi-media outings such as film and television, but also every day life.
Don’t forget the rest of the cast either. I’m convinced that Leslie Odom Jr. is the most talented man on the planet now that you mention it. Renée Elise Goldsberry is outstanding as Angelica, making this one of the few musicals that having more than one ‘leading lady’ type role, and Daveed Diggs shines as Lafayette and Jefferson. That being said, the entire cast is perfect. Manuel-Miranda himself plays Hamilton, and though he doesn’t have the greatest singing voice in the world, it is abundantly clear that he lives and breathes this part, and completely understands every single detail of what is going on within it.
As a former dancer, one thing I look out for more than most is the choreography. As you would expect, it is outstanding, yet often quite simple. But don’t take this as a bad thing. On the contrary, this is a prime example of how sometimes less is more, and the fact that this has now been documented for television lets you in on some of the angles you may have missed if you saw it live.
Now, onto the score. If you’re going to make a musical that is almost solely made up of musical numbers (think Rent if you’ve not seen this yet), you have to make sure that you have decent songs. Hamilton delivers. And then some. Though some songs are weaker than others, the majority of the songs are catchy, informative, and well performed, and the use of the orchestra pit within the show itself is super inventive, but I won’t spoil that for you by describing it in too much detail.
Disney+ have come away with a steal here. Hamilton is shot really well, especially for a live stage show that has been recorded for TV, and Disney in effect have therefore been given an original movie that they didn’t even have to work for – all they had to do was buy the rights to an already recorded piece. There are multiple camera angles too – again, I would argue that this is part of what helps establish this as a movie and not just a filmed stage show – but somehow the director keeps everything in focus that you need to see. It’s all very well done, and Thomas Kail has a bright future ahead of him. (Kail is also slated to direct an upcoming version of Oliver Twist, and I’m sure there’ll be more work lined up for him after that.)
After finishing this, I felt inclined to put Hamilton at the 4.5 star mark, rather than give it the full shebang, because the second half isn’t as strong. But no. I can’t do it. This is as perfect a stage musical as you’ll get in all honesty.
Even if you have no interest whatsoever in American history, and even if you’re not a fan of the all singing, all dancing musical extravaganza, you’ll enjoy this. I almost guarantee it.
Hamilton is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.
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