July 2, 2020

SCREEN | In the (Living) Room Where It Happens – 'Hamilton'

"You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story."
Jonathan Groff Lin-Manuel Miranda Thomas Kail | Hamilton: An American Musical on Disney+
Walt Disney Pictures
There's not much left to be said about composer/playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda's award-winning, historical smash hit Broadway musical phenomenon, Hamilton: An American Musical, exploring the eponymous Founding Father's unbelievable life and legacy in spectacular fashion.

At the tail end of its initial run, stage director Thomas Kail recorded a filmed version of the original production in June 2016 over just three days at the Richard Rodgers Theatre—before its cast moved on from the roles they originated—and edited the footage together to bridge its live-captured theatrical performances through a cinematic lens.

This transported edition of Hamilton is obviously a faithful, and mostly dynamic, translation. However, through the nature of film, Kail chooses where to put the audience's focus instead of the viewer scrambling to take in everything on stage all the time. The show itself is about how history changes over time depending on who's telling it—enhanced by its cast of storytellers who are almost entirely Black and brown performers recontextualizing history.

Set to original rap lyrics, the stage musical boldly reinterprets Alexander Hamilton's now notorious and improbable rise to prominence in helping establish the United States. Miranda as Hamilton compresses so much history into his intricately layered songs recounting the creation of a nation through the actions of its least remembered Founding Father. It remains an extraordinary achievement of an original art form mixing history and creativity sublimely.

Lin-Manuel Miranda Daveed Diggs Anthony Ramos Thomas Kail | Hamilton: An American Musical on Disney+

Through Hamilton's principal relationships with his loving wife Eliza (Phillipa Soo), confidant sister-in-law Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), nemesis Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), commander George Washington (Christopher Jackson), and rival Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), we understand his influences in establishing modern democratic institutions. It's fairly astonishing how well-conceived, executed, and performed these complex characters are with each coming together thematically and historically within the confines of the story.

By nature, a filmed theatrical performance can only hope to replicate part of any stage experience as a reasonable approximation at best. There is an inherent distance or layer of removal that acts as a barrier to what we are seeing. Fortunately, Kail's shot choices and the captured sound serve to protect the integrity of the show as much as possible. It can be difficult to really feel how quietly revolutionary the details of the content are through song and dance choreography alone.

The filmed version of Hamilton does an admirable job of recreating (and sometimes enhancing) the theatrical magic of the live musical while balancing its cinematic quality through rather smooth editing and interesting close-up shots. Now more than ever, this is a fine way to enjoy all the thrills of the original Broadway production. It ably combines the dual experiences of theatre and film while bottling a truly powerful story of American history.

Hamilton is available to stream on Disney+.

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