Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr., Renee Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs
Book/Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Director: Thomas Kail
If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon known as Hamilton, first of all, how dare you. I mean, it’s only one of the most celebrated and original musicals of all time. That may be high praise, but, in the years since its Off-Broadway debut, this story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) has grown from a quirky idea that never should have worked to a critically-acclaimed, award-sweeping show that has launched the careers of many cast-members and become a true pop-culture event.
Using an eclectic mix of musical styles, including hip-hop, R&B, and pop, and featuring a diverse, largely non-white cast, Hamilton serves as both a stylistic biography and a genuine love-letter to the American Dream. Show-creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda spins an incredible love story that depicts Hamilton not as a hero, but as a good man whose ambitions ultimately lead to conflict and controversy. Taking place in the otherwise unremarkable year of 1776, the show spans most of its titular character’s adult life to his untimely death in 1804 at the hands of one-time friend turned political adversary Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.).
Originally performed at the Roy Rodgers Theater during its original run in 2016, this “film” is essentially a prerecorded live show, complete with an audience. While this never distracts from the paid performers, it is a bit frustrating that the show’s blocking was done for the folks in the house, as opposed to those watching from home. This results in a few jarring moments where the actors play to the audience and not the camera, essentially upstaging themselves. There are also a number of close-ups intended to add dramatic flair but feel out of place. Wider shots effectively capture the stage but make it difficult for the viewer to focus their attention, so it’s a bit of a catch-22. In many ways, it feels like a concert video, albeit with much better visuals and not a speck of graininess. And, to their credit, the crew does manage to employ a variety of filming techniques that effectively add a cinematic flair to the proceedings.
For all its shortcomings, the opportunity to see Hamilton with the original cast is a riveting experience. While Miranda seems a bit awkward at times, he is nonetheless an incredible actor and an even better writer who deserves to be the household name he’s become in recent years. Phillipa Soo and Renee Elise Goldsberry are magnetic in their respective roles as Eliza and Angelica Schuyler, the two loves of Alexander’s life. As George Washington, Christopher Jackson delivers a performance that is powerful in every respect, while still making our first president oddly relatable.
The rest of the cast is fantastic, especially Daveed Diggs who, in his dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, hilariously steals every scene he’s in. However, it’s Leslie Odom Jr., in his Tony Award-winning role, who is the true powerhouse in this cast. He portrays Aaron Burr as a tragic, almost sympathetic figure who, like Hamilton, is ultimately undone by his own ambitions. Not unlike The Dark Knight, Alexander dies the hero, while Aaron lives long enough to see himself become the villain.
With Broadway going dark for the foreseeable future, this seems like the perfect time for the at-home audience to enjoy something many wouldn’t have the means to see otherwise (last I checked, tickets to the live-show of Hamilton were still around a thousand bucks). While it’s certainly not the same as being in the room where it happens, the ability to see a version with the original cast, uncut and (mostly) uncensored, is an amazing experience that merits multiple viewings. Raise a glass to streaming services!