Directed by Thomas Kail
Book, Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
For people who never understood, indeed resented, the attention and proclaimed brilliance of Hamilton – this is the opportunity to witness the phenomenon which has, and continues to, challenge the face of theatrical culture and historical perception. The American founding fathers, among the hundreds of names left out of their rise to glory, one individual sits overcast throughout history – Alexander Hamilton. A man who, before Lin-Manuel Miranda, the majority of us had perhaps heard of, but knew nothing about.
Sly, charming to a dysfunctional level, Miranda may be the father of Hamilton, but this production is by no means dominated by his exceptional ability or presence. There isn’t a character or moment of the production which feels bereft of wit, emotion or intention. Continuing the spark ideas of intrigue, or conjure debates which, somehow, a mere two centuries later we still seem to be having, Miranda’s Hamilton is both a product of the original century, an immigrant getting the job done, but is also a contemporary figure, a man who cries of the inequality and obstacles many continue to unjustly face.
And in this battle to free a nation, Hamilton is aided by a troupe of ambitious men and surrounds himself in a supportive network of influential women. From Daveed Diggs’s Marquis de Lafayette or his hypnotic Jefferson to the wonderment which is Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo as Angelica and Eliza Schulyer, two of three sisters who Hamilton finds an opportunity to climb the ranks, but ends up in a triangle of love and adoration he will never emerge from. Facing adversity from near and afar, from his former equal Aaron Burr, and across the sea from the Mad King George, performed sinfully by the eminent Jonathon Groff. Under the command of George Washington, Hamilton and this new generation of thinkers, writers and fighters seek to wash out the British and start anew.
Similarly, a rising tide of youth against a sea of tyranny, written from the hand of a man who has stepped forward, challenging a defiant series of expectations and prejudice, seems to have brewed a perfect storm which is now, as viable and potent as ever. Originally debuting in the Obama era – the first black president, to this modern re-framing in the wall-building Trump era. A production which catapults Black, Hispanic and Asian men and women into the roles of the founding fathers and other significant white historical figures is still met with futile resistance. Hamilton has perhaps, accepting idiom, never been more vital to grasping the attention of the people, and blazing a rallying song of the masses.
And what an album of the people, where any individual number can be illuminated for its merit. An infusion of Hip-Hop, Jazz and R&B collie with Broadway belts in a manner in which could crash and smoulder, but Miranda changes the game to his rules. Miranda’s lyrical scripture is magnificent in wit, humour and potency – infusing vast genres into a harmonised balance of wonder. The original cast perhaps demonstrates the flexibility and enthusiasm of the soundtrack, from the venomous energy Leslie Odom Jr. infuses Burr throughout The Room Where It Happened to the silencing tormented emotion of Who lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. The equally powerful Wait For It, as Odom Jnr’s descent into vendetta is bathed in the midnight brilliance of Howard Binkley’s colossal lighting. Where Hamilton perhaps cements itself as not only a piece of theatre but stunning filmmaking is with Satisfied, Goldberry’s signature moment and a defining moment for the first act.
This cinematography, from legendary filmmaker Declan Quinn, understands marrying the two mediums in synchronised perfection. If you’ve experience Hamilton from the ‘cheap seats’ in the Gods, you were stunned by the stage and the composition. Now, live from home, you can see the detail, the brass buttons and flickers of emotion in the faces of remarkable performances. Slow tracking shots, following the direction, allows focus and clarity with little to no direct cuts or edits, emulating a one-take aesthetic. Further, the tilts in camera angles serve as enforcers – Quinn’s decision to plummet the camera commands a sense of status from key cast members Washington (Christopher Jackson) or gradually spinning for dear ol’ King George III as his seething fury and madness rises, his competency dying out, his frabjous glee descending.
Where the camera has an edge on the stage, is bringing life to Blankenbuehler’s choreography, an overlooked aspect for Hamilton. A spirituous heavy-footed show, with plenty of revolutionary speeches and thundering stomps courtesy of Yorktown, the footwork is elegant on occasion, and no movement is without design. Orchestrating the movement of often busy stages is a difficult feat, but returning to Satisfied, if it’s possible to resign yourself from the erupting sentiment, observe the intricacy of arranging the cast around a solitary figure, catapulting back in time, and how accomplished this cast is.
So, from a Brit to the Yanks on this 4th of July – embrace history, do not spurn or alter its truth – confront the atrocity, reflect on it and represent it in all of the glorious diversity one can muster. The sons and daughters of bastards, and the immigrants who founded and freed nations are still breathing, still fighting, and still suffering. And if you can, parcel history in all of musical theatre’s majesty. The, well, you may just have taken your shot and forged a piece of cultural significance which will defy expectations, and deservedly strides forth as the par excellence which is Hamilton.
Hamilton is available to stream from Disney+