After years of critical acclaim on Broadway, Hamilton has now come to the comfort of our living rooms via Disney+. I never got the chance to see this production live, so viewing it at home was my first experience. I didn’t know what to think going in given all the hype around it and it is always dangerous territory going into a film, show, or play with massive expectations. Thankfully, Hamilton exceeded all of my expectations and delivered one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had this year.
For those unfamiliar, Hamilton tells the story of the first secretary of treasury Alexander Hamilton and his quick rise to power and key relationships with historical figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr to note a few. This is a filmed stage production featuring the original cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote all the music and helped with directing and production), Phillipia Soo, Leslie Odom Jr. Christopher Jackson, and Daveed Diggs. While the subject matter may seem like a boring historical piece, the presentation and execution is nothing short of extraordinary.
Right off the bat the staple with which Hamilton is renowned for is its music, and Miranda has written one of the most iconic soundtracks of all time. The music blends elements of pop, hip-hop, and rap to tell its story and the infusion of these elements with 18th century characters is a surprising show-stopping mix. Cabinet meetings are done via rap battles, expressions of jealousy and sadness are powerfully displayed through powerful pieces, a pep talk has characters break dancing and rapping simultaneously. All of these may seem out of left field, but the music pairs perfectly with the setting the characters are placed in.
The music seamlessly transitions from one song to the next and manages to give all the details we need in order to understand the story. Motivations are clearly painted through song and dance, emotional anguishes and exhibited through the height of the voice, and battles are given the same anticipations and intensity that a normal film fight would feature. The music heightens the narrative and certainly makes what could be a dull subject into an engaging and enlightening one. This is truly one of the most original ways to portray this history. To quote Miranda himself it’s the story of “American then, as told by America now”.
Lin-Manuel Miranda shines as the titular character who possesses the correct amount of ambition, arrogance, charm, bravado, and alacrity to make the show come alive. He leads the show with a dynamic performance all through the use of lyrics and voice to express the turmoils and struggles of Hamilton’s rise through the ranks. Equally impressive are his co stars with Leslie Odom Jr’s Aaron Burr showing a dual personality in which he seamlessly switches from reliable narrator to conning villain. The true standout is Phillipia Soo who plays Eliza, Hamilton’s wife. The range with which her voice takes her is astounding and provides the most chilling, emotionally resonant, and powerful songs of the entire show.
With this being a stage production and not technically a “film” poses an interesting challenge for the audiences at home to keep them engaged. Laughter, clapping, and the noticeable hands on the sides are all present during the viewing, but none of it seeks to alienate you from watching a genuine experience. It certainly begs for it to be watched on the biggest screen you can find in your house with the most robust sound system to truly immerse yourself.
In addition, the way they portray abstract thoughts and slow motion throughout the stage is another technical feat that elevates the viewing. Blue lights illuminate an ominous and somber tone where bombastic yellow and orange lights showcase a burgeoning rise. In the same way there is a rotating platform in the center of the stage and the way the actors around it exhibit their dance to show moments of thought or highlight the direction of a bullet is ingenious.
There are many transitional songs that carry the narrative but the show-stopping tunes of My Shot, Non-Stop, Helpless, Satisfied, Room Where it Happens, and Burn are the true treats of the show. I loved every single one of these not just because it was catchy and modernized to fit its audiences, but also because it gave insight into the characters, the motivations, the trials, the desperation each one was feeling to achieve their dreams and desires. This is not just a musical production that has catchy songs, but ones that truly tell a story and to that end I find the entire production extraordinary.
While the downside I did find from this viewing is the feeling that it could have been better live watching it in person in a theater. With Broadway closed until 2021 though, this is the closest to what I am going to get and with the original cast delivering a standout job the experience does not disappoint. If you haven’t seen Hamilton on Broadway, this is one of the best experiences you are going to get to experience the show of a lifetime. If you have already seen Hamilton on Broadway, I’m sure this is still a treat to experience such a visceral experience again and again. I know for certain that I will watch it over and over again on Disney+ and listen to its fantastic soundtrack all day long.