Review by Camden Ferrell
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton premiered off-Broadway in 2015 and has since become a global phenomenon, winning 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2016. Now, it has arrived on Disney+ as a live stage recording directed by two-time Emmy winner Thomas Kail (Grease Live!). This live recording utilizes stylish and confident cinematography and editing to brilliantly capture the mesmerizing performances in one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all-time.
Compiled from live recordings in June of 2016, this musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, from his beginnings in the Revolutionary War all the way to his role in the infancy of the United States. This story is told using music that is rooted deeply in genres of hip-hop, pop, and R&B. This is a historically rich story that is further elevated by its unique approach, consistent wit, and its profound exploration of its themes.
Written by Miranda, this is one of the most impressively written musicals that I have ever seen. Not only does it consolidate a sizable portion of American history in a comprehensive and accessible way, the musical also succeeds in its characterization of historical figures. The songs of this musical range from being comical to empowering and to being heartbreakingly human. It’s a juggling act that has never been executed so masterfully, and this is mostly due to Miranda’s lyrical prowess that doesn’t falter throughout the musicals 160-minute runtime.
Every performance in this musical is captivating, but there are some actors that definitely stand apart from the crowd. Daveed Diggs’ (Blindspotting) dual turn as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson is as convincing as it is infectiously enjoyable. He makes his mark with one of the musical’s best numbers, Guns and Ships. The musical also benefits greatly from its soulful and superbly talented actresses. Renée Elise Goldsberry gives mesmerizing performances as Angelica Schuyler in songs like Satisfied while Phillipa Soo does some remarkable things as Eliza Hamilton in songs such as Burn.
This is one of those rare musicals that have no weak links. Every aspect of the show is finely tuned down to its transitions, choreography, and blocking of each scene. It flows in such a way that the film quickly becomes immersive, and its lengthy runtime passes like a breeze. Kail’s direction allows the camera to move around with purpose without taking us out of the experience, and it allows the audience to become more acquainted and emotionally invested with its characters. It’s a live recording done right, and it’s a perfect example of elevating the source material through cinematography and consistently brilliant editing.
While Act 1 of the film is easily its most energetic and most musically catchy section, Act 2 is a human and thought-provoking testament to Hamilton’s legacy that makes the musical what it is today. Miranda creates a dichotomy that is seldom seen in musicals, and it is one that is pulled off so elegantly. Act 1 boasts powerful and musically epic numbers such as Alexander Hamilton, My Shot, and Right Hand Man, but this is balanced by Act 2’s selections such as The Reynolds Pamphlet, It’s Quiet Uptown, and The World is Wide Enough. Miranda has an amazing gift for showcasing the significance of Hamilton on U.S. history and his relationships with the other founding fathers while also presenting his shortcomings as a person in multiple aspects of his own life.
In addition to the brilliance of its musical complexity, relevant themes, and its performances, this movie’s success will hopefully usher in a new age of Broadway musicals being available to viewers at home. This is a show that isn’t the most financially accessible for many people, but this live recording has bridged the gap that exists between the musical and its audience. While it may not be the same as seeing the show live on Broadway, it’s still a captivating and endlessly entertaining experience that will amaze audiences this holiday weekend.
Hamilton is a musical triumph that stands out as one of the best Broadway productions, and it is one that benefits from Miranda’s one of a kind exploration of its fascinating subject. It is great for first-time viewers (such as myself), but it is evident that this musical will have immense potential for repeat viewings. This musical alone justifies the cost of creating or continuing your Disney+ subscription. This is the best film of 2020, and it’s one that can provide much needed entertainment during this difficult time.
Hamilton is currently streaming on Disney+.