‘Hamilton’ Movie Review: American His-Do-Re-Mi
There are two experiences for watching Hamilton on Disney+. The people who saw it live get to relive that experience. Or, people who never got to see it live finally get to experience it. This review is based on the latter experience, but man, if you’ve spent the last five years hearing about Hamilton, you’ll totally get it now.
The story of ‘Hamilton’
Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America during and after the American Revolution. The American history is there. Hamilton raps about taxation without representation, but uses much more clever words. The colonies win independence from Britain, but then they have to build a country.
Often, plays lose steam in Act 2. They’ve done the central musical number and they’ve taken a 10-15 minute break. You can skip the minute long intermission of this video presentation, but it’s clear taking a break doesn’t slow the show down. Hamilton really saves the meat for the second half.
This is the conflict within the founding Americans including Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), Lafayette (Daveed Diggs) and George Washington (Christopher Jackson). States disagree over Hamilton’s financial plans, let alone amendments to the basic Constitution. There is also the personal side of Alexander Hamilton’s life. He marries Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo) but has an indiscretion with another woman (Jasmine Cephas Jones) that compromises his political work.
Even as a good husband, Hamilton can’t pull himself away from his work. One can understand that an obsessive drive distracts one from one’s family. People doing far less than founding a country can be workaholics. It could be a screenplay, or editing a film to keep it within the entertainment industry. Had Hamilton had a healthier work/life balance, would we still have a country? Hopefully so.
The music of ‘Hamilton’
Calling Hamilton a hip hop musical really undersells it. Yes, they explain complex legislation with lyrics which is amazing, but they also have melodic musical numbers like “The Story of Tonight,” “Helpless” or “Stay Alive.” Even King George’s “You’ll Be Back” is a ballad.
The performers act a full range of emotions while hitting the high notes or hitting every syllable of a verbose rap. Pay attention to the background dancers though. The stars are doing engaging choreographers but the background dancers are doing real Step Up choreography.
A front row seat
The cameras filming the Hamilton stage give you an idea of what it would have been like to have a front row seat to the show. In fact, they sometimes get onto the stage with the performances for some closeups, but they let a lot of the production unfold within the proscenium. There are angles from the left, center and right of the theater but never an angle from the nosebleed section. It’s always close.
The set with it’s wooden stairs, barrels and brick facade can double for a downstairs bar, a colonial back alleyor even the aftermath of a battlefield. The lighting changes it to an office, Washington’s situation room plotting the war. Lanterns descend from the ceiling. Subtle changes can entirely transform a scene. The stage also has a rotating platform to enhance the choreography.
Obviously, there’s nothing like the energy of a live show and seeing these performers sing these songs and do these dances right before your eyes. Now Miranda, Odom, Diggs, Jackson, Soo and Goldsberry have moved on, but other performers will surely bring magnificent energy to Hamilton.
Hamilton on Disney+ sure comes as close as any video recording could to feeling like you’re watching a live show on your couch. Please do Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell, the Meat Loaf musical, next.