The Living-Room Where It Happened: Hamilton on Disney+
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
On July 3rd, 2020, the smash hit musical Hamilton was released on Disney+. This filmed performance was set to be released in theatres in October 2021. Due to the effects of COVID-19, creator Lin-Manuel Miranda opted to have it released early on Disney’s streaming platform.
This release is a professionally filmed version of the musical from 2016, starring the original Broadway cast including Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, and Miranda himself in the title role. The musical, directed by Thomas Kail, was inspired by the biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton through hip-hop music, from his arrival in New York City to his death at the hands of Aaron Burr.
Hamilton has won a multitude of awards and accolades, including Tony-Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. After viewing, there’s no wondering why it has such a large claim to fame. It’s absolutely incredible how writer and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken an entire life and condensed it into a two and a half hour musical, as well as the revolutionary way it is presented.. Hamilton has redefined the contemporary musical theatre scene. While many musicals are sung-through, this is the first mainstream Broadway musical to be presented completely through rap. The show is smart and snappy; it’s full of references and moves quickly (which is where subtitles are a blessing!) Miranda has created a versatile score, moving between rap and R&B stylings while including classic Broadway styles like patter and of course, glorious ballads.
Alexander Hamilton’s story is told by Aaron Burr, who introduces himself as “the damn fool that shot him”. Leslie Odom Jr. is a marvel in this role; a born storyteller who is both passionate, powerful, and sensitive. Burr’s story runs parallel to Hamilton’s, and he provides a brilliant foil. Odom Jr. brings gravitas with him every time he enters the stage, as well as a strong intensity despite being the more reserved of the two revolutionaries. There’s a glint in his eye and a fire within that radiates throughout his performance. He navigates a difficult score effortlessly, with velvet tones, crisp diction, and even brings a surprising softness. He is also the only actor in the show who performs in every different vocal style.
Another brilliant foil to the often manic, sometimes absent, Alexander, is the character of his wife, Elizabeth Schyler, played by the effervescent Phillipa Soo. She is the heart and soul of this musical, as well as its strong backbone. Her performance is beautifully subtle and incredibly moving. Eliza is one of the best ingenues in modern musical theatre. She defies and redefines the archetype, and goes through a powerful character journey. Every moment of Soo’s performance is refined, and in “It’s Quiet Uptown”, her solo line of three simple words sums up the entire four-minute number. She is beautiful to watch, and her silent strength and warm vocals draw audiences in and leave them enthralled.
Hamilton has a cast full of superstars, and it’s amazing that all of these wonderful performances have been captured on film and are being shared worldwide. Chris Jackson commands attention as George Washington, and his performance of “One Last Time” is thrilling. Daveed Diggs is phenomenal as Thomas Jefferson with high energy and chameleon-like physicality. Amongst all of these performances, Jonathan Groff manages to steal the show with his fierce comedic timing as King George III, despite having a small amount of stage time.
A strong centre of Hamilton is the show’s ensemble. One may not notice just listening to the album, but the ensemble is non-stop. A sung-through show calls for a production full of movement and Hamilton does not disappoint. Tony-Award Winner Andy Blankenbeuhler has created brilliant choreography which combines hip-hop and modern styles which serve as entertainment, transitions, and symbolism. As Hamilton uses a form of heightened language, it is only natural that it would use heightened movement. One of the best examples of this is the transition into and through “Satisfied” where the show physically rewinds itself before resumes the next number.. As for use of ensemble, Ariana DeBose’s track, known as “The Bullet”, is used throughout the show to symbolize death, and it is impeccably done.
While Hamilton had already secured it’s legacy within the history of musical theatre, its release on Disney+ has only allowed it to grow. This is a huge step forward for theatre accessibility. A Broadway show, filmed professionally, is now available across the globe on a streaming platform. Usually these professional shots are released after a show has closed. However, pre-Covid, Hamilton has multiple productions running world wide which makes it all the more incredible that it’s been made available for people to watch at home.
Since Hamilton has become more accessible and has made theatre, as well as history, available to younger viewers, there is a responsibility in how history is presented. It is important to remember that this musical presents a rose-tinted view and falls into the category known as “Founder’s Chic”. As entertaining as the musical is, it must be recognized that the show glosses over undesirable traits of Alexander Hamilton and the other historical figures.
Hamilton has been cast to represent how America looks today, and recognizes it as a country built by immigrants. This musical has created jobs and opportunities for performers of colour, and makes representation in theatre a priority. The story also captures the essence of the American Dream and covers political and human rights issues which are still relevant to this day.
It is possible to enjoy the musical while recognizing how our history has been recorded and taught. Hopefully, Hamilton inspires people to look into history and continue having conversations about the change we wish to see in the world.
Hamilton is inspiring and thought-provoking. The show is legendary, and I would definitely recommend taking the time to watch it on Disney+. For an $8.99 subscription, why wouldn’t you?
If you’re curious about some of the history behind Hamilton you can click the link here:
Want to throw a fabulous Hamilton lockdown watch party? Click below: