Once upon a time, a new musical that had sold out during its Off-Broadway engagement moved to the more luxurious and spacious confines of Broadway, and this intrepid reviewer thought that with the increased seating, he would have no problem scoring a ticket or two.
Alas, he waited too long, for this show soon became a sell-out on Broadway; other developments soon followed that dampened his resolve (including the inflated ticket prices—even by Broadway standards—for orchestra and mezzanine tickets). So, when the forces behind Hamilton (I figured you knew what musical I was referring to) made the decision to film the show for posterity (with the original cast) and release it at some point in the future, I was fairly pleased. And of course, when the “later became sooner” because of recent events, it only became a matter of forking over the $6.95 for my Disney Plus subscription to be able to stream Hamilton (not the only reason to get this channel, but certainly the most pressing one).
All I can say after this preamble is that I liked it—perhaps more than I thought I would. Like creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s previous hit In the Heights, the show opens with a dazzling ensemble number where character introductions are made, exposition conveyed, and relationships displayed—all beautifully composed and staged to infectious music and intelligent, witty lyrics and wordplay. Miranda has written a show that can be appreciated for the sheer variety and embrace of many musical styles, its graceful storytelling, its willingness to paint Hamilton as a very flawed figure, and its attempt to sketch the political machinations of the period. (Yes at times, Miranda “gilds the lily” but he isn’t creating a treatise or a polemic—he’s creating an entertainment—and one that does not aim for the lowest common denominator).
One of the master strokes in the show is having the story of Alexander Hamilton (the first Secretary of the Treasury and a Caribbean immigrant, as it would happen) narrated by Aaron Burr (charismatically embodied by Leslie Odom Jr.), Hamilton’s eventual rival who would fatally wound him in that fateful duel in Weehawken, New Jersey. Once the major and minor players are introduced, the narrative (augmented by Odom/Burr’s prescient commentary) sweeps you through Hamilton’s rise to prominence at the side of George Washington (Christopher Wallace), his marriage to Eliza (Phillipa Soo), his rivalry with Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), his moral lapses and certain ill=advised attempts to rebound—and the consequences inherent when a man of words has to reckon with his own actions—and those of others.
Miranda, the author, has given himself a “fairly good” title role that he persuasively and energetically embodies (sometimes with some knowing humor) but he has also been generous with others, giving the talented cast ample opportunities to shine and even dominate the proceedings: Christopher Wallace’s Washington is a committed, patriarchal, and finally pragmatic figure who earns his graceful retreat from public life; Daveed Diggs is flamboyance and exuberance personified as a calculating, crafty and fun-loving Jefferson (not to mention his energetic turn as Lafayette); Phillipa Soo’s Eliza is heartbreaking and powerful in her scenes both in the courtship phase and confronting the consequences of Hamilton’s shortcomings. And lest we forget the British side of the Revolutionary dispute, Jonathan Groff makes for a gleeful, showstopping King George III.
One can make some quibbles about Hamilton: about what was (or was not) accurately presented, about what may have been left out. But again, this is not a historical document—rather it is an extremely well-conceived and vital filmed document of what has become an essential part of American theater. Hamilton may not be the best musical ever (as some have claimed), but it is a beautifully executed show that captures a top-flight cast in an exuberant, captivating, and even educational (I’m not just talkin’ history) theatrical experience. Break open the bank, shell out the $6.95, and see it for yourself.