Before the pandemic hit, I was a frequent visitor to New York City, and would often build my trips solely around watching as many of the latest Broadway and Off Broadway productions that I could fit into the week that I was visiting. And I distinctly remember the deafening hype that Hamilton
created when it opened and performed a sold out run at the Off Broadway Public Theater in February 2015. With its imminent Broadway transfer already set for that summer at the Richard Rodgers Theater, I knew that this was a theatrical event I could not miss, and during a theater trip that April, I walked to the Rodgers box office to see if I could score a ticket for October of that year, when I knew I would be returning for another visit.
With tickets already having gone on sale a few weeks earlier, pickings were slim, and many of the performances I was looking at to attend in six months were already sold out. However, I managed to find a great Mezzanine seat for the evening of Thursday, October 15th, 2015. (Yes, I still have the ticket, as I do for all the shows that I have attended for the past 22 years.) I was one of the lucky few who got to see the original Broadway cast of this show that has gone on to become not just a theatrical phenomenon, but probably the most important musical event of the past decade. Telling the life and story of one of America's founding fathers using modern day hip-hop and pop music, writer-creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda created not just a musical history lesson, but one that used a diverse cast of actors of different colors to portray the roles.
Given its runaway success both on Broadway and the National Tour, it was still hard to get a ticket even five years after the show premiered, right up until recent events forced all theatrical productions to close until at least 2021. That's why this filmed version of Hamilton
exists, so that everyone (or at least everyone who has access to the Disney+ streaming service) can see the show performed by Miranda and the rest of the astounding original cast who were the first to bring this show to amazing life. Filmed over two separate days during different live performances at the Richard Rodgers, this is an intimate recording of a live theater event of a lifetime. The original show's director, Thomas Kail, has set things up so we're not just watching the show from afar, but gives us a glorious up close and personal film that gives you a better view of the action than even those who paid obscene prices to sit in the first few rows in front of the stage.
Thanks to the energetic editing and camerawork, this Hamilton
is something that can be savored by both those who have all the songs memorized forward and backwards, and those who just want to know what all the excitement is about. I honestly can't think of a better way to capture the one of a kind energy that the original production truly was. It's one of those theatrical experiences that have stayed with me since I saw it, and now with this, I can revisit it whenever I want to. It's truly a spectacle, and probably the biggest streaming event of the year. What I particularly admired is how it's been filmed so that we don't miss a single detail, and actually get to see details that audiences probably missed the first time. Using multiple cameras, the editing is frantic enough to keep up with the high energy of the show, but it's never alienating or confusing. I can see this easily creating not just new fans of this particular production, but maybe live theater in general.
Condensing the life of Alexander Hamilton (played by Miranda) into a little over two and a half hours (with a one minute intermission in this film) is no small feat, but the show kicks off with his arrival in New York in 1776 as the American Revolution is getting underway. Befriending famous faces like Aaron Burr (a sensational Leslie Odom Jr.) and even George Washington, Hamilton raises through the ranks of history, falls in love with the beautiful Eliza (Phillipa Soo), and finds himself "in the room where it happened" when our founding fathers came together. The second half of the show covers Hamilton's personal fall, as an affair with another woman destroys his political career, and the death of his eldest son in a gun duel takes a personal toll on the man. It all eventually leads up to the famous rift that builds with his former friend, Aaron Burr, and how that rift led to another early morning gun duel between the two men.
is famous not just for its widely diverse music score, covering a wide range of songs which make it almost certain that at least one song will connect with everyone in the audience, but also for how it depicts its historical figures and tells the story. Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) comes across as a self-involved egotist in his portrayal, while the pompous King George (Jonathan Groff) is portrayed as an over the top comic relief figure, who wonders how the rebels who turned against him will do without him to guide them. Everyone here speaks with modern day talk and sings with today's music, but it's never distracting here. That's because Miranda is using today's America to tell the story of how it was founded. It doesn't feel like a gimmick, as Miranda (who wrote the songs as well as the dialogue) has a centralized vision, and never once strays. He was the right person to tell this story, and the way he tells it could only come from him.
This is the kind of supreme entertainment we seldom get, either in the live theater or the filmed medium. To have both come together so beautifully as it does here truly feels just as much of a bolt of energy as it did almost five years ago when I was watching it live. This is the rare film you must go out of your way to see. It's truly one of the most stunning theater performances ever captured on film.