The Streaming Experience: Hamilton Streams Magnificently on Disney + Just in the Nick of Time
So I ask myself, “what can I say about this show that has had so much written about it from the theatre press and beyond?” I wrote that refrain back in 2016 when I finally had the opportunity to see this stellar genre-redefining musical that had taken Broadway by storm, and now takes over the streaming world of 2020 thanks to Disney +. The film is directed and produced by Thomas Kail and produced, written, and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars in the titular role of the first Treasury Secretary and Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, along with the original principal Broadway cast of the musical. The film version of Hamilton was originally intended to be released theatrically on October 15, 2021, but thankfully, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was released digitally worldwide by Disney+ on July 3, 2020.
It sorta does suck, in a way, that we all had to sign up to Disney + just to see Hamilton- an American Musical, when so many other shows are being streamed for free, with the hopes of amassing donations for the theatre companies they are associated with or for charities like BCEFA (please donate some more by clicking here) who are helping all those people who are out of work, struggling because of COVID19, and the closing of all things theatrical. Just remember, as you watch the streaming on Disney +, all those that we are seeing on that Broadway stage when Hamilton was filmed, are, I’m guessing, out of work, and when those horrible GOP senators take away the additional COVID19 unemployment funds as they are planning on doing, pretty much all who work in theatre (or connected to the theatre) are going to be in a very tight difficult state as it doesn’t look like the lights will come up on Broadway and beyond for at least six more months. I hope Disney + is donating some of the money they are bringing in to help those folks, I know I did.
So with that upsetting thought in mind, I’m going to step back to the time when Broadway as alive and well, and Hamilton was taking over Broadway. We bought our tickets hours before the show opened on Broadway in August of 2015. Wanting to get good seats on a Thursday night, we searched and searched dates until we finally found four great seats in the second row center of the front mezzanine on February 4th, 2016. It was a long way off, but I knew we had spent our theatre cash wisely. I am a very patient person, generally speaking, but I was itching to see this show from the day I first heard about it at the Public Theater. Why I didn’t see it when it first premiered downtown, I can’t really say, but this was the year when this blog first made its appearance, and I wasn’t privy to all the press invites that would come my way later that year. I also must admit that I was one of the few that was not blown away by In The Heights. I remember sitting in the exuberant audience watching that show, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s take of Romeo and Juliet and thinking, well this is cute and sweet, but I’m definitely out of step with everyone else going crazy all around me. It’s funny when that happens. Maybe it was the day, or my mood, or both (which happens sometimes, even with the best of shows), but Hamilton intrigued me from the moment I heard about the historical subject matter and the stylistic musical ideas swirling around it.
The other thing I remember is that crazy in-person lottery that took over the street outside of the Richard Rodgers theater before every performance. I tried to win a $10 lottery ticket numerous times since purchasing our seats, and I have to tell you, it was both a bit disheartening and a whole lot of exciting to turn up at the theatre a little more than two hours before the show to find hundreds and hundreds of other hopeful people throwing their names in that lottery bucket. I was a bit ashamed to stand there amongst the swelling crowd with the internal knowledge that I actually did have a ticket but didn’t want to wait until February to get my first view of this show. I did not tell anyone at the theatre as we stood and prayed and crossed our fingers (slightly hard to do with winter gloves on…just saying) out of a bit of shame and guilt. I never did win, but I was glad for those squealing fans who did; those who got their chance to witness this phenomenon (and I am going to willingly believe that each and every one of them had a/not seen it yet, b/did not own a ticket for a future date like me, c/could only afford the $10 ticket price for the front row seat they just won, and d/were basically living saints, who were finally getting some payback for all the good they had done in their lives so far).
I proclaimed, back then quite gladly, that I was completely intoxicated by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton – An American Musical. And I still am as I watch it once again on Disney +. It is exquisitely directed by Thomas Kail (MCC Theater‘s The Wrong Man) with an awe-inspiring drive and passion for its subject, and for history itself. It has an energy, a beat, a rhythm, and a rebelliousness that is most fitting to our time and place, sweeping us up and keeping us thoroughly engaged and enchanted from beginning to end, even in its filmed streaming structure (or maybe even more so because of it). It’s a powerhouse production telling the sorted tale of this pushy historical figure, Alexander Hamilton, played with upmost integrity by the uber-talented Miranda (Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins Returns‘) and the band of rebels that he ran around with and that ran around him.
The story of America’s founding fathers – Hamilton, George Washington, played most heroically by the astounding and very handsome Christopher Jackson (Broadway’s After Midnight), Thomas Jefferson, played by the incredible Daveed Diggs (sadly, I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Diggs when I saw it on Broadway, but Seth Stewart in this role, and also the role of Marquis De Lafayette was absolutely wonderful), and James Madison, beautifully portrayed by Okieriete Onaodowan (Broadway’s Rocky The Musical), who also plays Hercules Mulligan, is really about a wildly driven bunch of rebels trying to change the world they live in, much like Miranda himself has done to Broadway musical theatre. Using the musical forms of rap, hip-hop, and R&B ballads, he finds his way most electrically through, pushing the history lesson forward with a power that is both enlightening and invigorating. It’s a musical theatre revolution in its own right by using non-traditional musical forms that feel, initially, at odds with the subject and historical time period, but expertly find their way to be perfectly in tune with the minds and hearts of these people of the revolution. The ethnically diverse cast is extremely well suited for the task of telling this high-energy slice of American history and never give up one precious moment. It’s like attending the most thrilling history lecture by a fast-talking caffeinated professor and a whole bunch of excited assistants, that for some sleepy minded students, the first few scenes are almost too fast and with too much information. Even on second viewing, I had to dig into the history books a bit to really get what was going on, but luckily because of the grand nature of the pause button and Google/Wikipedia, this Canadian was up to the challenge.
Watching this show on my laptop was like driving on a multi-lane highway in a powerful fast car, slowing down every once and a while to drive through a picturesque town and take in the beautiful surroundings. Miranda, at times, speeds through time doling out historical facts with precision but then slows down just enough to enrapture us with romantic entanglements and emotionally complicated ballads and R&B classically crafted songs, like the wonderful ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ sung by the breathtaking trio of Phillipa Soo, as Eliza, his wife, Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica, and Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy. It seems whenever we are given a delicious moment to explore the developing triangular love and sexual life of Alexander Hamilton, the musical gives itself a moment to take some much needed deep and emotional breathes. We are given gifts aplenty in these carefully crafted scenarios, like the gorgeous and entwined ‘Helpless’ and “Satisfied’. I also loved the sensual sound of Jasmine Cephas Jones’s (2015 film ‘Mistress America’) voice in her other role as Maria Reynolds, the married woman who seduces Hamilton and almost brings the famous man down.
Although Hamilton – An American Musical is crafted to center itself on the lead character’s rise from poor orphan to power and fame, the real emotional center of the piece seems to be the man who literally brings down Hamilton. Aaron Burr, beautifully played by magnificent Leslie Odom Jr. (Encores! Off-Center’s Tick, Tick… Boom!). He carries the show forward with his ever-changing introduction to Hamilton’s upbringing with his stellar voice and unmistakable stage presence, especially in his rousing number ‘The Room Where it Happens’. He is a force, and for me, the star of the show, or at least the dramatic core.
It would also be criminal to write about Hamilton and not mention Jonathan Groff’s hilarious performance as King George III. Groff (off-Broadway’s Little Shop of Horrors) is most definitely a Broadway genius, from the moment he makes his grand entrance, and performs his neo-British pop number, ‘You’ll Be Back’ to every other time he sets foot on the stage. His presence is pure stage royalty, finding the spotlight with every gesture and wink. It’s the greatest gig and gift a performer can get and give; four numbers on stage with perfectly written songs and moments, killing it each and every time. I couldn’t get enough.
Beyond that, the rest of the cast is exceptional, singing with intensity all of those incredibly well-written songs, melting and blending historical references with modern language, altering style, and slang, and giving us a visual spectacular this is balletic and graceful, with power and edge. The set design by David Korins (Broadway’sWar Paint) is earthy and time-framed perfect, with the revolving space being utilized most amazingly well by the exciting and compelling choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler (Broadway’s Bandstand). It’s a marvel to take it all in visually, enhanced at every turn of the dial by the amazing projections and lighting design of Howell Binkley (Broadway’s Jersey Boys). The craftsmanship can not be ignored, nor was it on Tony Award night in the spring of 2016. Hamilton received a record-setting 16 nominations, eventually winning 11 awards, including Best Musical. It also, most rightly, received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Act One is an adrenaline-fueled history lesson in politics, war, and revolution but it is in Hamilton’s heart where love, in Act Two, is the clincher. In that creation, the show finds its emotional core and depth, even causing the young 6-year-old Rhys to sob mainly because of Hamilton’s son, played dynamically by Anthony Ramos Martinez (Broadway’s In The Heights), and the deadly duel’s outcome. “His favorite character was the king…he liked the battles, and was saddened by the deaths….He also first cried when Angelica didn’t get Hamilton” but ultimately, and most inspiringly, his very proud mother stated that “The play is making him sad.” Isn’t that the best thing ever? And her daughter, 8-year-old Hazel, who has made many a frontmezzjunkies appearance, quite naturally had just so so many questions that the pause button was being fully utilized in that household (now who does this video remind me of, down below. It’s from ‘Frozen II‘ which I watched the night after). Now those are two five-star reviews if there ever were any (and there were, but these two tell a whole more optimistic tale than even my review).
It is truly amazing what Miranda has done here on stage and in this filmed version now available on Disney +. He has made these stiff dull men, many who were actually slave owners themselves, leap out of the history books and captivate us on a whole new level. He has made the creation of this country and its constitution exciting, lively, energetic, and utterly modern. DPAC Official Site states most rightly, that Hamilton – An American Musical is about “America then, as told by America now.” And it couldn’t come at a more needed moment when racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront of the cultural conversation. That mendacious monster in the White House can call the peaceful protest whatever he wants, but we know what needs to be done, and I hope we all have the drive and the audacity to oust him and his party in November and change the world we live in for the better, much like Lin-Manuel Miranda did to Broadway and the world with his Hamilton. “We stand on the side of justice. Black Lives Matter” (as stated on HamiltonMusical’s twitter account). Take action.