Hamilton, based on the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, is the acclaimed musical based on one of the lesser-known founding fathers of the title name. Originating in 2013, the musical is written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who starred as the title role for several years of the production. A filmed version of the Broadway production from 2016 was released on Disney+ in July 2020, which is the version that this review is covering. The film, directed by Thomas Kail and produced by Kail and Miranda, has the original Broadway cast including Miranda alongside Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, Leslie Odom Jr., Anthony Ramos, and Renée Elise Goldsberry. With Act I in 1776 and Act II taking place postwar, Hamilton tells the life story of Alexander Hamilton, from his duties in war, his marriage and family struggles, as well as his death.
A musical of this scale which is so heavily focused on the characters and minimalistic needs to have great performers to hold the audience’s attention, and this cast is nothing short of exceptional. Whilst it can be daunting at first glance to see actors play several characters, the actors do a fantastic job bringing all of their roles to life and feel necessary to keep them throughout the entire production. It would be a shame to have such a great performer as Daveed Diggs only play the role of Lafayette and be sitting out the rest of the musical, but instead, he also finds a way to tell the story of Jefferson.
The casting is incredible, and what I admire about theatre is the blind casting that is done. Just because the real people would have been predominantly white doesn’t mean the cast should be white and Lin-Manuel Miranda knows that. For a story focused on an immigrant, Hamilton gives everyone a chance to perform no matter their race or background. In terms of highlights in this cast, Miranda is obviously a standout. I want to highlight two though that many others are not perhaps focusing on. Anthony Ramos is preparing to bring Miranda’s other major musical, In The Heights, to life in a film adaptation but his role here as Hamilton’s son Philip is heartbreaking and may perhaps be the true heart of the story. Also along with the family aspect of Hamilton’s story, Phillipa Soo is breathtaking as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza. Out of every song on the soundtrack, “Burn”may just be my favourite purely down to her performance.
As I mentioned previously, the stage production is quite simple in comparison to other stage productions but that is a benefit for this story. The lack of staging, aside from a few set pieces and the main feature of a rotating floor, helps allow for creativity in the choreography and performance in each actor. The production makes use of the entire floor, with many small details and moments occurring in the corners and upper areas that fully realise the world and situation of the story. With the lack of set-up needing done between scenes, either from costumes or stage production, the story flows extremely well from scene to scene, and yet there is no confusion as to what is happening or how the narrative is progressing.
As somebody from the UK, I know very little about the origins of America and the founding fathers aside from the Boston Tea Party and the role that Washington played in the war. Whilst musicals, in general, are a great escape from the world and more central on entertainment, Hamilton proves that they can also provide a form of education on a subject matter that most people would not learn about otherwise. The musical explores the idea that Hamilton died too young and never got to live a legacy like the other founding fathers, such as Washington and Jefferson did, hence why he is not taught about as much. As said in the closing song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Our Stories”, this musical handles the idea of legacy and passing down our stories to generations, even if we cannot do it ourselves.
A story of this much importance and weight in terms of subject matter could a bore to get through, like what many textbooks potentially do. To hold it all together, you need to make it entertaining and also easy to understand and follow. That is where the music comes in, with what is easily the best musical soundtrack of the decade. The lyrics here are incredibly tight, not just in terms of narrative and plot but also lyrically. The use of repetition to not only familiarise the audience with the tone and musical themes but to also move the plot along, giving the characters their own trait through music is incredible. These are songs that will stick in your head all day and can also be easily listened to without the visuals, with songs such as “Work” and “My Shot” still playing over and over again. Forgetting the performances and narrative, it can be hard enough to write so many incredible songs for one production but Hamilton has that covered.
As this is a filmed experience and the only way right now to experience this story, I will add a few comments on Thomas Kail’s direction. It is very hard to plan a recording of this quality for a theatre experience, and the filmed experience will never match it. However, Kail uses the opportunity that he and Lin-Manuel Miranda have to film several recordings of the show, both in front of and without an audience, to get as much content as they need. With different angles, close-ups, and tight editing to make the production as seamless as possible, this feels incredibly tight and has now set a new standard for what a filmed theatre show can be in the future, as well as confirm the demand for productions like this to exist beyond stages.
There are many things in life that get a tremendous amount of love and from doing so can suffer from the idea of being overhyped or underwhelming when you finally get to the experience. This is not the case with Hamilton. As somebody that avoided the soundtrack so that I could one day perhaps get the true experience of seeing the musical come to life with the music, this filmed experience does not disappoint whatsoever. The hype is real with this one, please make sure to seek it out. Many others have said it before me, but this may be the closest thing we get to a Shakespearean-level event, both in the importance of culture and the theatrical experience, we will get in decades or even centuries,
Have you managed to experience Hamilton yet, and were you lucky enough to see it in a theatre? Let me know all of your thoughts on the musical here and let’s have a discussion.