Theater geeks everywhere will rejoice and many who would consider themselves impervious to the charms of a Broadway musical will find themselves seduced as Hamilton drops on Disney+ on July 3. Filmed four years while the original cast was still intact, but not intended for a theatrical release until the fall of 2021, with COVID-19 putting pause to the Broadway and road companies, the decision to push the date up by over a year and put it on the streaming service is a welcome one. No doubt there is a business calculation involved. Disney+ can expect to gain X number of subscribers through this shrewd move. But ultimately, who cares about the company’s motivation? Hamilton is here.
But does it live up to the hype? Emphatically, yes. The show that opened to big box office and multiple awards off-Broadway in 2015 before moving onto Broadway later that year, garnering a record-setting 16 Tony nominations and 11 awards, and eventually winning playwright-lyricist-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda a Pulitzer Prize deserves all of its accolades. The United States’ first Treasury Secretary’s life unfolds through 46 songs, ranging from traditional musical theater showstoppers to hip hop and nearly all of them earworms. The cast – led by Miranda as Hamilton, Leslie Odom, Jr. as his rival Aaron Burr, Daveed Diggs in the dual roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, Jonathan Groff as King George, Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton, and Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler – is perfection. And while some historians have groused about the accuracy of the events portrayed, Hamilton accomplishes what all the best fiction spun from historical events does – it piques audience interest in discovering the real story.To adapt the play to the screen, director Thomas Kail filmed several actual live performances along with performances staged strictly for award-winning cinematographer Declan Quinn’s cameras, a set-up that included a Steadicam. This is not a Hamilton that even its most ardent fans have seen before. Close-ups reveal nuances to the performances lost to distance from the stage and provides a privileged vantage point from which to view Andy Blankenbuehler’s Tony-winning choreography. Jonah Moran’s editing injects a burst of new energy into an already adrenalin-fueled musical. Every performer, from Miranda and Odom to the ensemble, brings their A-game.
In the midst of a seemingly never-ending pandemic, Hamilton offers a ray of light. Despite the eventual tragedy of Alexander Hamilton’s life, this musical is a burst of joy, something in far too short supply these days. To borrow the title from one of the show’s songs, the filmed Hamilton gives audiences the opportunity to see the show in “The Room Where It Happened.” Take it. –Pam Grady