The Coronavirus pandemic has put a temporary stop to all live performances. However, a silver lining has come in the form a collection of free to stream productions, including an early release of Hamilton’s 2016 original cast recording, which is now available on Disney+.
As we cross our fingers and desperately hope our favourite theatre haunts make it through the pandemic, Hamilton’s filmed performance serves as a beautiful reminder of theatre’s necessity, its lack of diversity and the films ability to touch a broader audience, previously unable to afford the price of admission.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics serve the audience an absorbing and imaginative rewrite of America's origin story. Performing as Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, the hip-hop biography is partly narrated by Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), reflecting on their mirrored lives, distinctly opposing principles and ties, throughout their clashing careers. Mixing tradition with innovation, the tumultuous life and death of Hamilton is surrounded by a glorious hip-hop, soul and R&B heavy soundtrack.
Not confined to the aesthetics and stylings of the 17-1800s, each character’s personality is reflected through the musical genre they deliver their solos, emphasised in the speed of their delivery and underscored by their movements across the stage. Fugees, The Notorious B.I.G, and an autotuned upgrade to The Reynolds Pamphlet makes the show rich in lyrical detail, youthful in energy and painless for a repeat viewing of its 2 hour and 55-minute experience.
Director, Thomas Kail brings a fresh-faced production with a set that showcases the humble beginnings that the country was founded on, while Paul Tazewell’s romantic costumes embrace the period without feeling overproduced with unnecessary wigs and props. Relatable in its visceral approach, the shows broad remit to engulf its audience in historical references and introduce a large cast of characters brings unexpected and powerful theatrical moments. Casting her spell further than Elsa, Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry) freezes time on her audience with a striking effect that reverses part of the narrative and allows her to retell the story from her perspective. Alongside duels and rap battles, the narrative remains timely and relevant with its universal themes of betrayal, love, ambition, senseless gun violence and activism.
With its minimalist, scaffolding set depicting the foundations of a new nation, live audiences aren’t forced to wrestle their focus away from the actors whose often centre stage performances are circulated around each other. However, the recording of the film does have some sound mixing issues, along with a few distractions and unnecessary liberties taken with its edited edition. Generous close-ups, side shots and some of the more frustrating crane shots play out performances from so far afield its casts expressions are unreadable.
Hamilton’s filmed production is sensational, but nothing beats live theatre. Hopefully, we will see Victoria Palace Theatre reopen next year with its 2020 Hamilton cast, led by the remarkable Trevor Dion Nicholas, who moved from playing the Genie in Disney’s live production of Aladdin to lead as Hamilton. In the meantime, the film is a fantastic substitute.
Much of the criticism surrounding Hamilton comes from its removal of the problematic parts of history, seen as a whitewashing of slavery and genocide despite this shows unique opportunity to layer different voices and new perspectives into the story. However, Hamilton is not a documentary, and as its production moves outside of the exclusive enclosures of the theatre, straight into our living rooms, it should spark enough joy to inspire a personal history lesson. One that this restricted musical rendition and its soulful, self-serving characters are restricted in retelling.
Hamilton is available to watch on Disney+