What if a Broadway hit transitioned into a feature film… and reworked nothing at all?
From humble beginnings as an American immigrant, Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) is remembered for more than his fateful duel with Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.). As a scribe for General George Washington (Chris Jackson) and later serving under his presidency as the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, Alexander ever pushes himself to excel but is by no means as perfect as he strives to be. As a revolutionary dreaming of glory on the battlefield and intent on securing his legacy in history, Hamilton refuses advice to talk less and smile more, insistent upon taking his shot no matter the cost… and all that that implies.
Filmed with the original Broadway cast at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York City, Hamilton is as infamous for its popularity as it is for ticket availability; actually scoring open seats is almost as prestigious as seeing the live performance itself. While slated for a 2021 release, Disney Plus made the play-on-film available a year early in time for July 4th so that everyone could at last experience what all the hype was about. Using a combination of modern talk and aesthetics coupled with lively songs and period costuming — think Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet with new language in an old setting instead of old language in a new setting — but when history has its eyes on you, is the film version truly like being in the room where it happened?
Writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda introduces himself in character almost apologetically, showing Alexander’s genuine fear he’s out of his element. That the show itself as “An American Musical” is a phenomenon is without question, but the the effect of having the perfect seat for every aspect of this performance is likely transcending even for those who’ve seen the show. From the clever set and staging to the lighting and imagery, the film manages to not only capture what makes a live performance amazing but infuses it with a true silver-screen quality. Compared to previous over-cinematic reinterpretations from 1978’s Grease to 2019’s ill-fated Cats, how can this not be the preferred template for bringing any post-theatrical Broadway experience to the masses?
Without going into spoilers, Hamilton is an interesting companion piece to 1972’s previous revolutionary music-theater classic 1776, which focused on the Continental Congress pulling together the Declaration of Independence. It’s an interesting POV contrast with Hamilton in the same way Gary Oldman’s Darkest Hour mirrors the scope and events opposite Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Conceptually, the play takes plenty of liberties — insert “Epic Rap Battles of History” reference here — but it’s effective in showcasing the man and his works… preferably enough to send folks stuck at home online to read up more on history than reposting modern conspiracy theories.
With NYC’s Broadway now reportedly shut down until 2021, how many other plays are waiting in the pipeline to reinvigorate a love of theater? How about Beetlejuice the Musical? Don’t worry; movies aren’t going away, but if the story is there, why not bring more such titles to the home box office and eventually into cinema as event releases instead of one-night only Fathom events? You know… before the world turned upside down.
Hamilton is rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material, and poor dueling advice.
Four skull recommendation out of four