I’m probably in the small percentage of people who, not only hasn’t seen any version onstage, but also hasn’t listened to the soundtrack of Hamilton. To be honest, I didn’t even know the story.
Being from the UK, my knowledge of American history is vague. Some of the names within the story are, of course, recognisable. George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the ones that stood out, in particular.
If it wasn’t for the chunk of pop culture that Hamilton has carved out in the past few years, I don’t think I would’ve heard of Alexander Hamilton, either. But maybe that’s part of the point.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit debuted on Broadway back in 2015, simultaneously redefining and re-imagining the musical genre. Today, Disney+ debuted a live recording of the show that was filmed nearly a year and a half after the show premiered.
Hamilton opens with its most recognisable songs. Even I had heard Alexander Hamilton and My Shot before. We’re instantly introduced to the main players of the show; Manuel Miranda plays the titular role, whilst Leslie Odom Jr, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan and Anthony Ramos play a ‘motley crew’ of the most important characters in Hamilton’s life.
The musical depicts the life of Alexander Hamilton, beginning with his arrival in New York in 1776, to his fateful duel with Odom Jr’s Aaron Burr on the streets of New Jersey, in 1804.
Manuel Miranda holds his own in the titular role, but its the rest of the cast that elevates him. It’s easy to see the majority of these parts are career-starting performances.
In particular, Renée Elise Goldsberry stands out as one of the finest talents, whilst also single-handedly delivering the show’s best song, Satisfied.
As well as Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff nails his scene-stealing performance as King George III. Interestingly, Groff had already departed the show, but returned for one night, in order for the performance to be filmed.
Yet, the cast would be nothing without the material. Manuel Miranda wrote the entire soundtrack and its to his credit that each song offers up something different. Whether its the hushed strings of It’s Quiet Uptown or the jazzy style of The Room Where It Happens, it’s really hard not to like any of the songs.
However, one pitfall to a musical refraining from breaking out of song, is pace. Granted, the majority of the songs keep the momentum of the play going, but the difficulty in conveying so much plot with just lyrics, often leaves a lot of catching up to do.
As mentioned before, perhaps my lack of American history plays a part in this. But I spent most of the time trying to grasp the point of every word, rather than simply enjoying the music.
Hamilton is a breathtaking production. The scale, the music, the cast. Everything works and it’s definitely a great way of livening up old-school politics. The recording of the show is beneficial in the fact that it is obviously able to provide angles and close-ups you wouldn’t get in the theatre. Jonathan Groff’s spit might be the only thing upstaging his performance.
Yet, I can’t help but feel the grandeur of the stage is the only place Hamilton belongs.
The real life of one of America’s foremost founding fathers and first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Filmed live on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theatre with the original Broadway cast.
It stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr, Phillipa Soo, Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, Chris Jackson, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Jonathan Groff and Okieriete Onaodowan.
Hamilton is streaming now, exclusively on Disney+.