Filmed with the original cast at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016, Hamilton debuted on Disney+ on July 3. While originally slated for an October 2021 theatrical release, Disney moved the film up a year and a half due to COVID-19.
Before I watched this recording, I had very little exposure to Hamilton. Of course, I had heard everyone in the world raving about it for years. However, I didn’t know the story, nor did I know any of the songs. I went into it essentially blind. While this film could never fully capture the raw energy of seeing it performed live, Hamilton provides a great opportunity for those who have sat out this cultural zeitgeist thus far to now jump on the bandwagon.
Hamilton tells the story of “Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton” played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. In grand fashion, Hamilton depicts the formation of the United States as it declares independence from King George (Jonathan Groff), and its journey as it establishes a new government. Through this, we learn of Hamilton’s own personal shortcomings, as well as his rivalry with Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs).
Hamilton is a truly unique musical. It blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and classic Broadway together for an array of electric and pulsating songs. Lin-Manuel Miranda, as the show’s writer, is an absolute genius. I first became a fan of his with Moana (2016), but hearing his lyrics and seeing Hamilton performed gave me a whole other level of respect for him. This is such a dense musical; I can’t even imagine what the writing process must have been like. It’s able to provide a great deal of education with fantastic, thought-provoking lines, while also keeping a beat. The writing is just simply brilliant.
The accompanying choreography is equally magnificent. The background dancers have really intricate movements, incorporating a lot of props into their dancing. They only add to the songs, never detracting from the focus of these numbers. They’re also used in incredibly creative ways throughout the show, such as acting as bullets being fired from a gun.
I absolutely love how different panels of the stage floor moved, allowing for characters to rotate around the stage. It is abundantly apparent that every single movement and motion was intricately and meticulously planned as everything flows seamlessly.
The one downside to Hamilton is that the music is hard to fully retain upon an initial viewing. Everything is coming at you so fast and furiously that I easily missed half of the entire show’s lyrics. It takes an incredible amount of focus and concentration to make out everything they’re saying, and even then there are still things that are missed. For Hamilton, however, this can certainly be a positive as it will drive people to watch it again and again.
There is something really special about a musical focused on the founding fathers of the United States — who were all slave owners — being played entirely by people of color. It takes the power out of the slave owners’ hands and gives it to those they would have subjugated. It’s an inversion of history that continually reminds us of the United States’ foundational injustices.
Every year on the Fourth of July, we celebrate the formation of a new free nation that was created by people who owned other human beings. The colonists wanted freedom and independence from their oppressors without ever recognizing that they themselves were oppressors of the African people they had torn from their homes whom they had beaten, raped, and brutalized. The “American experiment” failed from the start because what was designed to be a free country was only ever free for one class of people. 244 years later, true freedom is still exclusive and out of grasp for so many Americans.
Overall, Hamilton is an energetic and vibrant show. Filled with memorable songs and eye-catching choreography, the show excels on every level. Watching this recording only makes me want to see the show performed live, though this film is a perfectly good substitute for those who either can’t afford to see it live or don’t have the means to be able to see it. This was the perfect time for Disney to release this film, and I’m excited to see what dialogue ensues now that the whole world gets to see Hamilton.
Author: Nathanael Molnar, originally published [7/4/2020]