Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster Broadway musical debuts on Disney Plus a year early. Hamilton tells the story of America’s founding fathers through rap dialogue, traditional singing, and exquisitely choreographed dance sequences. The majority of the cast are black and brown actors who portray historical white figures, many of them slave owners. It is an eclectic, astonishingly creative modern take on the American Revolution; and the pivotal thinker at its center. Hamilton won eleven Tony Awards and the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2016. The film was originally slated to premiere theatrically in October of 2021. I am pleased to report that the genius and splendor of the play has been expertly captured on film.
The audience roars as the lights dim in Broadway’s Rodgers Theatre. Our first inclination of a radically different experience is a snarky rap voice over from the petulant King George (Jonathan Groff). We’re then introduced to Alexander Hamilton’s lifelong nemesis, Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.). He raps, sings, and laments how history has judged him wrong. Burr shot Hamilton in America’s most infamous duel. Lin-Manuel Miranda triumphantly takes the stage as Hamilton. The primary players swoop around him as they sing Alexander Hamilton, the dazzling first musical number and a toe-tapping chorus throughout the story.
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Hamilton’s grand ambitions take him to New York City. He was determined to prove himself; become more than a poor orphan with no station in life. The play then becomes a glorious whirlwind over the next one hundred and sixty minutes. Hamilton befriends the Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), meets his future wife, the wealthy Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo), and most importantly, comes into the service of General George Washington (Christopher Jackson). His magnificent intellect was the driving force in crafting the Constitution, American Federalism, and the central banking system. Hamilton’s brilliance was only surpassed by his arrogance. It would eventually escalate his rivalry with Aaron Burr to a point of no return.
Hamilton is the most entertaining history lesson you’ve ever seen. Lin Manuel-Miranda based the play on Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton. The musical is loaded with historical details, intrigue, and the personal follies of the Founding Fathers. There are no narrative shortcuts in the exceptionally well-executed plot. The cast of minority actors also point out the racial and sexual inequality of the time. The United States demanded individual freedom from the British Monarchy, but didn’t include their black slaves or women of any race. This ideological disparity is the crux of the play’s message.
Hamilton was filmed in June of 2016 by the play’s director Thomas Kail. His knowledge of the stage blocking results in amazing camera work. Hamilton takes place on one set with characters coming in and out of frame constantly. The stage also rotates during frenetic dance ensembles. Kail focuses on the leads, but films at subtle angles where the background players are never lost. He moves side to side, up and down, and occasionally films from behind. The stage is extremely busy. Kail captures all of the action seamlessly. Credit is also due to the film’s editor, Jonah Moran. The behind the camera team succeeds in bringing the Broadway stage to your living room streaming on Disney+. That’s no easy feat, especially with a production this complex.
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Hamilton. I was blown out of my chair in the theater. Audiences can now have the same feelings at home. The sheer creativity is wondrous to behold. The narrative, spellbinding rap dialogue, and thrilling music will enchant you. Hamilton fulfills every expectation. It is a must see this weekend on Disney Plus. Hamilton is produced by 5000 Broadway Productions and Walt Disney Pictures.
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Film critic, raconteur, praying for dolphins to grow thumbs and do better.