When the stage production of "Hamilton" that now streams on Disney Plus was recorded back in 2016, it was at a time when tickets were next to impossible to get. This hip-hop infused telling of the story of America's founding fathers was an exclusive entertainment event that only the wealthy, the well-connected or the lucky few were able to see. We read countless glowing reviews, saw the clips and performances during the Tonys, and many became familiar with some of the big songs without seeing the show.My sister knows the soundtrack backwards and forwards and had not seen "Hamilton" until this past weekend.
The real success of this Disney Plus venture is making something so significant to the cultural zeitgeist widely available to millions of people - not just the few, the elite. I'm imaging some young viewer in, say, 4th grade streaming this out of curiosity and getting a spark for the theater. "Wait. It's not all old music and dancing anymore?" This could be a defining moment for them. That's a win.
The play itself is, unsurprisingly, fantastic and so is the delivery through this medium. Recorded in front of a live audience (with a few close-up shots sneaked in later), Director Thomas Kail lends a cinematic quality to the stage production while never letting us forget this is very much a play for a rapt audience. Cameras cover many angles (including one from upstage facing the audience used sparingly). The editing is a masterclass - not too frantic for such a lively production and excellent in capturing key moments. If you have a home theater sound system, crank it up for these songs. The sound is crisp, full and not a single lyric or line of dialogue is lost.
Much has already been said and written about Lin Manuel Miranda's brilliant writing and his daring decision to cast people of color in lead roles like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson. Is it a way of claiming a history that was never theirs? Taking some owed ownership of their country's heritage? Simply a way to prioritize non-white actors in major roles? It's certainly open to interpretation. For a play about politics, Miranda keeps it accessible (Vice President Mike Pence and the Obamas have all praised it).
Mirandabased the play on a biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The musical covers Hamilton's serving the Continental Army under Washington, co-writing the Federalist Papers and creating the Bank of New York, along with his personal life that was mired in a scandalous affair. Conversations are had in rhyming verse. Legislative arguments are rap battles.
It does feel revelatory when you're watching it. This is new. This is now.The hip-hop and jazz-driven songs stay with you with strong hooks that feel like we'll be singing them for decades to come.
This recorded production features the original Broadway cast. So many of them are worth mentioning, but Leslie Odom Jr. is the clear standout as Burr - a political chameleon who just wants to be "in the room where it happens." Daveed Diggs is electrifying and hilarious in dual roles as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Phillipa Soo just might break you as Hamilton's wife Eliza - the final moment of the play is a stunner.
Oddly, it's Miranda himself I found to be the weak link in the cast with his ability to spit rhymes far outpacing his singing prowess. But that shortcoming is covered by the passion he shows for the material he wrote. It's all there on the stage. Now, thankfully, it's in our living rooms.