Where to start with Hamilton? To call Lin-Manuel Miranda’s revisionist musical a smash hit would be an understatement. Since playing in its finished form for the first time off-Broadway in February 2015, Hamilton has become as much a global phenomenon as anything has in the past five years, spawning productions on multiple continents, numerous number-one albums and in-jokes on whichever sitcom or movie you’ve become acquainted with over the past few months.
Now, finally, after buying streaming rights to the filmed performance for some $75 million, the definitive Broadway production is now on Disney+. It doesn’t disappoint.
As much a theatrical event in and of itself as an opportune testament to the magic of musical theatre, this Broadway cut of Hamilton could not come at a better time for fans of the genre. Even the cheers and whoops of the gathered audience – which come pretty often – carry an added poignance because of the times we’re living in.
Not that Hamilton is short on feeling. Impressively dynamic for a filmed stage event, the new recording does justice to a brilliant musical and an authoritative production. To call the play song-heavy would, again, understate Hamilton’s idiosyncrasy, and a roster of pre-eminent theatre performers effortlessly carry the story through what could seem a daunting 160-minute runtime (sixty second interval included).
Although some dozen or more actors do stellar work, highlights include Anthony Ramos (who you might know from A Star Is Born) as anti-slavery soldier John Lauren, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, and Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson. Much has already been made of Jonathan Groff’s bubbly take on King George III, who pops up now and again, usually for the perky breakup song “You’ll Be Back”. That’s not to mention Leslie Odom Jr as Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s greatest contemporary and ultimately a stunning antagonist, another outsider jostling for a seat on the inside (voiced wonderfully in “The Room Where It Happens”).
Overall, Miranda’s genre-bending songs drive Hamilton’s most powerful and lasting accomplishment: as a timely thesis on American heroism, sacrifice, and our relationship with the past in general. Such a worldview can’t be put too simply into words (although “immigrants get the job done” comes pretty close). But with the help of the Nineties R&B-influenced ballad “Helpless” to the drumroll of a hype song “My Shot”, Miranda subverted the classic tongue-in-cheek, wry tone of musical theatre to make something quite extraordinary, a full-throated tribute to an understated hero of the American revolution, and a symbol of a different kind of person.
Earnestness isn’t a quality we often associate with the bratty, often hyper-competitive world of Broadway showbusiness – the bitter politics of the early United States pales in comparison – yet Hamilton is a sparkling example that there is still room for sincerity in great, self-reflexive art. That’s not necessarily a revolution Alexander Hamilton would have been part of, but what a moving achievement it is.
Hamilton is available to watch on Disney + from Friday July 3rdd.