July 4, 2020

“Hamilton” Review: Say Yes to This!

“What’s your name, man?”
I don’t know of a single musical theatre fan that has never either longed to, or has been lucky enough, to see Hamilton live on stage. And the only thing more exciting than seeing a live performance of Hamilton is seeing the show with its original cast.

Now, finally, the latter is possible again, nearly four years after the cast’s exit. A professionally recorded version of a few 2016 performances (all spliced together) has debuted on Disney+, and even if you’ve seen the show once, twice, three times before, this is a completely new way to experience the show.

Hamilton in and of itself is an astoundingly enjoyable show, managing to be both emotionally crippling and wonderfully inspiring during its respectable two and a half hour runtime. The tone can shift so rapidly, and even when you know the music and you know the lines, the presentations of the fast-moving scenes on screen are breathtaking enough to hold your attention for hours on end.

Director Thomas Kail manages to cleverly capture the action on stage with a variety of well-placed and masterfully-edited shots and angles. At points you might think you were watching a film adaptation of Hamilton instead of a recorded stage production — and it’s all due to the set-up. Every shot was clearly chosen with intentional precision, to focus on what we should focus on while also paying attention to what’s going on around the characters. It’s an element that warrants multiple viewings, to get a full picture of the environment of every scene.

It’s worth mentioning the standout cast members, even though they’ve been lauded and praised for years, ever since the show premiered. Leslie Odom, Jr. is the standout (the show’s focal point, in fact) as Aaron Burr, the Nick Carraway-esque narrator and hinge. Phillipa Soo’s performance as Eliza Hamilton is heartbreakingly real — this is a woman who’s suffered more loss in her early life than anyone should. Jonathan Groff is hilariously loony as King George III, and Christopher Jackson is also a notable star, playing George Washington, a much more emotional role than one might guess.

Some of the actors double their roles: Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Jefferson), Anthony Ramos (Laurens/Philip) and Okieriete Onaodowan (Mulligan/Madison) all show their acting range in their different parts, and it’s absolutely gleeful to see them have so much fun with their characters.

And, of course, how could we forget Lin-Manuel Miranda — the man, the myth, the legend — as Alexander Hamilton. Miranda’s creative genius is on full display throughout this whole show, and you will marvel time and time again at the writer/musician/lyricist/actor/singer…the list goes on and on, and it only gets more and more impressive.

The show’s ensemble definitely does not get enough credit for what they bring to the show — they’re present in nearly every scene, whether they be dancing, watching or participating in the action, and they all have some serious moves. They’re one of the reasons that warrants a rewatch of Hamilton — it’s remarkable to see just how much talent is onstage at any given time.

History comes colorfully alive with Hamilton, definitively a very different experience from the Broadway show…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is a film that is sure to leave everyone satisfied and smiling (whoops, got a bit Jagged Little Pill for a second), capturing the magic and vivid inspiration that Hamilton brings to audiences everywhere. The music is something special — it’s a non-stop rollercoaster, filled with catchy tunes that will have you dancing, bopping your head and crying, sometimes all at the same time. Hamilton is a musical you’ll want to watch time and time again. 

If this was a test run to see how well recorded versions of hit Broadway shows would do when they are released on streaming, it was a very successful one. Now that everyone finally has a chance to watch this show…do not throw away your shot. [Grade: A+]

Happy Fourth of July!

Director: Thomas Kail
Writer: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson
Rated: PG-13 for language and some suggestive material
Available: Disney+
Fun Fact: One of the only original cast members not present in the filmed version of the show is Emmy Raver-Lampman, originally part of the ensemble, who is now one of the leads in the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy.

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