mon 13/07/2020

Hamilton, Disney+ review - puts us all in the room where it happened | reviews, news & interviews

Hamilton, Disney+ review - puts us all in the room where it happened

Hamilton, Disney+ review - puts us all in the room where it happened

Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical gets another shot on screen

Helplessly in love: Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and wife Eliza (Phillipa Soo)Disney+

The movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights was meant to hit cinemas this summer, but, in response to Covid-19, has been put back to 2021. Instead, we get the early release on Disney+ of Miranda’s Hamilton – filmed, NT Live style, with the original Broadway cast at three performances in June 2016, and now available to a wide audience for the first time. Who could say no to this? 

Stage director Thomas Kail also helms the film, and the result is an exhilarating, immersive experience of this dynamic musical about America’s forgotten Founding Father, who travels from penniless Caribbean orphan to revolutionary and political leader. Judicious close-ups give us a new view of these rich performances, without betraying the spirit of the medium. Kail’s fluid camera work matches the show’s constant flow; instead of elaborate, changing sets, it’s the hard-working, Andy Blankenbuehler-choreographed ensemble who form the backbone, evoking everything from an army to a hurricane.

HamiltonThey even add dramatic heft to something as simple as an approaching letter – albeit one that will change our protagonist’s destiny. That’s the masterstroke of this musical: not just showing the duels and sex scandals, but making Hamilton’s writing about the constitution and states’ debts somehow cool, accessible, even spectacular. Miranda’s propulsive, witty score takes much of the credit, encompassing as it does everything from hip-hop, R&B and jazz to classic musical theatre and British Invasion pop. Though subsequent casts, particularly here in London, have reinterpreted the material with aplomb, it’s fascinating to see the originals (pictured above) in action – both their natural camaraderie and their creative choices, since many of them helped shape this remarkable production. 

There’s lightning-fast rapper Daveed Diggs’s idiosyncratic, almost goofy Lafayette and flamboyant, formidable foe Jefferson; Anthony Ramos bringing bags of charm to Laurens, who dreams of leading the first black battalion; the explosive physicality of Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan, emphasised by Kail’s swooping shots; and Jonathan Groff playing George III as part puffed-up panto dame, part cold-blooded psychopath. We zoom right in on his sneer, and catch the spittle that flies forth with each contemptuous quip.

In “Satisfied”, the astonishing Renée Elise Goldsberry demonstrates that sister-in-law Angelica is every bit Hamilton’s intellectual equal as she reads all the angles in seconds flat; it’s only gender that separates their journeys. Phillipa Soo gives wife Eliza a strong arc, from the gleeful rush of first love to the shrewd woman who demands to be “a part of the narrative”, and who indeed becomes the storyteller. And, in light of our current leadership, Christopher Jackson’s self-disciplined Washington seems like a saint, nobly relinquishing power for the greater good.

HamiltonMiranda himself emphasises Hamilton’s raw talent and fatal lack of control, though he’s less persuasive as a lothario. But Leslie Odom Jr. (pictured above) steals the show, close-ups magnifying his pitch-perfect performance as rival Burr – the watchfulness and restrained passion, the almost prayer-like “Wait for It”. Still, they’re a riveting double act: Hamilton trying to outrun death, Burr trying to outfox it. Kail hones in on the details of their parallel paths, like their shared hopes as fathers for a better world in “Dear Theodosia”, as well as tracking the bigger picture. An impressive aerial shot captures the chaos and impact of a duel, and we’re plunged into the terror of civil war; revolution is messy, uncertain, an act of faith.

Of course, the context has shifted substantially since the creation of this optimistic, Obama-era show. Yet in some ways, as Kail notes in his introduction, Hamilton does speak strongly to our present moment. Its interrogation of who tells the “story” of our national history could hardly be more timely, likewise seeing actors of colour portraying these powerful, mythic figures – although the show does skirt the subject of slavery. We might also recognise the partisan deadlock, or Burr’s cynical harnessing of empty, populist politics.

The call to “rise up” is now firmly a battle cry, while “Immigrants, we get the job done” feels even more pointed, as does the question of “What comes next” when a nation splits away – or, indeed, Brexits. Perhaps most crucially, Coronavirus has thrown so many systemic problems and entrenched inequalities into sharp relief. Could this be a moment of real change, both for theatre and for society? We must take that challenge seriously: Hamilton is a reminder that we're all creating a legacy – planting seeds in a garden you never get to see – and that history has its eyes on us.

@mkmswain

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