Hamilton streaming on Disney+ is the lead title in their big drive to try to get some summer subscribers, and the fact that it isn’t even available to stream unless you pay for a subscription (Disney+ ended their one week free trial option in mid-June) means that they’re probably doing quite well. In fact, early reports are that their app saw a 74% increase in downloads last weekend after Hamilton became available. This is good news for Disney, as they anted up a $75 million price tag to get the rights to air the play! So, is it worth the cost of entry?
[SPOILER ALERT: Scroll through below to read my review of Hamilton. Due to the nature of the play and its high degree of public exposure (historical personages, release of the soundtrack several years ago, plenty of media coverage since 2015), there will be discussion of plot points and musical numbers.]
In brief, yes. Considering that for the price of admission ($7) you and your entire family – and friends if you’re not socially isolating – can watch the original cast of a production that was, just a couple of years ago, commanding $1000 per ticket, means that you’re more than getting your money’s worth (and while you’re subscribed to Disney+, why not take the opportunity to watch other excellent programming like The Mandalorian or The World According to Jeff Goldblum). And that should tell you right away that I don’t agree with my colleague’s assessment of the value and quality of this show (sorry, Jamie!).
The production was filmed over three days in June 2016, just before the original cast departed for new projects (NYT), so this is an opportunity to get a sense of the experience people who were fortunate enough to be in the live audience had. This is, however, also part of the only real failing of this production – the streaming experience just can’t quite capture the energy of a live performance when you’re actually sitting in the theater. But even with that single failing, the film manages to capture a magical moment of Broadway history: this production of the show has the record for most Tony nominations (sixteen) and is only one behind The Producers for wins (with eleven); Miranda was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. As an historical document alone, this show is well worth the price.
The real strength of the show lies in two parts: the actors, and the score. The cast is clearly extremely well-rehearsed, having done hundreds of shows by the time they were filmed here, and it shows in their easy nature with one another. Many of Miranda’s hip-hop songs have intricately interwoven lyrics being sung by two, three, or more actors, and they never miss a beat. While some of the rhymes are a bit weak (Founding father / Without a father), the presentation and joy with which the songs are infused helps to overcome any perceived lack – and the rhymes are, for the most part, witty and on-point with the history as reification angle that Miranda employs here. (Miranda’s project from the beginning was to present Hamilton – whom he felt was relatively under-appreciated and not well-known – as one of, if not the, key Founding Father(s). This has led to a degree of controversy over the angle and focus of the musical, which I’m not going to be addressing in this review – beyond noting this.)
For me, the standout performance is from Daveed Diggs – Leslie Odom Jr. and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler) have better singing voices, no question, but every time Diggs was on-stage it just brought a huge smile to my face. He does double-duty as the Marquis de Lafayette in the first Act, and Thomas Jefferson in the second. His big solo, “What Did I Miss”, is a laugh-out-loud moment of comic relief in this mostly serious play (that does, admittedly, have a few lighter moments), which deals with Jefferson’s absence from much of the doings back home while he was Ambassador to France.
The other standout (okay, so I have two), is Phillipa Soo who plays the long-suffering Eliza, Hamilton’s wife. We see through the play that he has a wandering eye (a suspected affair with his sister-in-law Angelica, and a definite affair with a married woman), and yet in the end, it is Soo’s final number (“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”) that caps the show, and speaks to the real project of the ten-plus years Miranda spent working on and with this musical: what really happened is sometimes not as important as the voices that tell the stories that shape the past, because those are the voices that inform the future.
Steve’s Rating: (8.5 / 10)
Lacking only the full energy of a theater audience to push it over the top, this film version of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton is well worth your time and money.
Director: Thomas Kail
Writers: Lin-Manuel Miranda (book), Ron Chernow (original biography, based on)
Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Anthony Ramos, Christopher Jackson, Jonathon Groff
Release Date: July 3, 2020
Runtime: 2 hrs. 40 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13