In 2009 composer Tony-award winning composer and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda performed the opening song from a project he was working on called, “The Hamilton Mixtape,” at the White House Poetry Jam. The audience, which included President Obama and Michelle Obama, laughed when Miranda said that he believed Alexander Hamilton was the embodiment of hip-hop.
“You laugh! But it’s true.” Miranda told the crowd, before launching into what would become a very familiar melody for Hamilton fans worldwide. The ten-dollar founding father that America forgot quickly became a household name when Hamilton the musical debuted on Broadway in 2015. Hamilton won eleven Tony’s and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. However, demand for show tickets were sky high, and prices inflated to the point where one seat could cost an audience member the same as one month’s rent or more.
Fans asked for a filmed version of Hamilton. Five years after the show’s Broadway debut, Disney+ delivered. Disney paid $75 million dollars for the exclusive rights to Hamilton, which the company had planned to release in theaters next October. However, Disney wisely decided to move up the release date and make the show available on Disney+ due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Now the Hamilton film is available to stream on Disney+, and boy does the show look good on film!
What is Hamilton About Anyway?
For those not familiar with the show, Hamilton tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. It’s a nonstop rap musical the hits the ground running from the first downbeat. The show may be nearly three hours long, but the pacing is excellent and the show never drags at any moment. Act one of Hamilton covers Hamilton’s rise to prominence as an aide de camp to General George Washington, his marriage to Eliza Schuyler, America’s triumph at Yorktown, and Hamilton’s run-ins with Aaron Burr.
Pardon Me, Are You Aaron Burr, Sir?
Leslie Odom Jr. won the Tony Award for Best Actor for his portrayal as Aaron Burr, and watching the film makes it easier to see his stunning performance. Burr is basically the narrator of the show, and is basically akin to a Shakespearean tragic figure that you can’t help but empathize with. He is Hamilton’s foil in every sense of the word. Hamilton is spontaneity personified, while Burr prefers to wait for the right moment. It’s clear that the two men, who will later meet on the dueling ground in the second act, weren’t hostile towards each other, and were actually quite on friendly terms more often than not.
This is a show where the entire soundtrack is excellent, but Leslie Odom Jr’s epic act one solo, “Wait For It,” is definitely a standout.
The Room Where It Happens
What really makes this show special is its consistence in overall excellence. There’s not a single weak link in the cast, every song moves the plot forward, and the melodies are definitely going to get stuck in listener’s heads. Another thing that makes having a film adaptation so special is the fact that fans get to see the little character mannerisms that the actors added onstage that simply can’t be translated onto an album. Yes, Hamilton definitely has a cast album that is worth listening to on repeat, but this was a show that was made to be watched.
An aspect of the film I particularly enjoyed was the camerawork. There’s the close ups on characters which allows the audience to actually their subtle character nuances, as well as the sumptuous costumes (my favorite has to be Maria Reynold’s red dress.) I also loved the shots of actors about to make their entrances: For example, the shot of Christopher Jackson’s George Washington with his back to the audience as he was about to be introduced in “Guns and Ships.”
And try not to be too in awe of the shot where the cast frozen in a circle on the turntable in “My Shot,” illuminated in shadow as Hamilton stands by the side. It’s just gorgeous.
Act two covers Hamilton’s time as Secretary of the Treasury, his marital woes, and his fateful duel with Aaron Burr. What’s great about the second act is Eliza’s growth, and her her part in “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” would bring a grown man to tears. Challenging one’s role in the narrative is a key theme of Eliza’s story, and is a particularly important theme now more than ever.
Hamilton is available now on Disney+. Trust me, it’s worth the watch this Fourth of July weekend.