July 1, 2020
In case you’re coming to this unclear on what actor/playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is about, the play follows significant moments of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton’s (Miranda) life from surviving severe illness as a child all the way until his death at the hands of Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.). But Hamilton isn’t just a simple history lesson, it’s an astonishing euphony of music, an amalgamation of genres so unique that it hits you right in the soul. The first act is the incredible rise, while the second act speaks more to his personal and professional fall. Miranda’s storytelling, the performances, the precision of the staging, and the ear-worm song compositions will make even the least interested in history tap their toes by the end of the opening number.
How well does the Disney Plus edition capture the feeling of the live experience?
Director Thomas Kail (Fosse/Verdon) includes everything that makes going to see a Broadway show wondrous while using the tools of cinema to make watching Hamilton immersive. Your seat at home is the best one in the house as the perspective shifts from the stage audiences’ seats to a close-up then back out again. If your only experience with Hamilton is the soundtrack, remixes, or online videos, being able to see the performances for yourself conveys just how much of the story is missed when you can’t see it. The live experience captures the rawness and spontaneity of live theater. Much of which is conveyed through the kinesthetic performance along with the words. Take for example, the jaunty “What Did I Miss?” sung by Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson at the top of Act II. To see Diggs dancing and high-kicking across the stage is something a soundtrack can’t capture. Or, even better, the devilishly small movements by Jonathan Groff’s King George which would go otherwise unnoticed or unknown without seeing his wry smile, prancing steps, or enraged spittle.
This, of course, doesn’t even account for the marvelous production itself, utilizing one set with a dual-multidirectional rotating floor and movable balconies in order to recreate a variety of moments in history without so much as a curtain change. The end result is something pure, original, and moving.
The Audio and Music
Any review would be incomplete without mentioning the audio in the recording. More than just a live recording, you’re no longer an audience member as you’ll feel transported to a private performance of Hamilton. There’s not a single bit of distortion in the mix, not a single sour note in any moment which may otherwise remove the audience from the magic of the production. Unlike being in the theater where you have to deal with issues of audio reverb or the cochlear blowout from the intense stereo equipment, every line comes through without distortion, and you can moderate it to your pleasure. You’re free to sing as loud as you want and, speaking of the songs, audiences only familiar with the soundtrack will be delighted to learn there is a new, albeit brief, song featuring Anthony Ramos as John Laurens titled “Laurens’ Interlude.”
If there is any kind of problem with the theatrical edition of Hamilton, it comes in two places with the exact same problem: blue stage lighting. In both Odom Jr.’s “Wait for It” and Phillipa Soo’s haunting “Burn,” the blue light that shines down upon them makes each look part Smurf. Neither instance ruins the moment narratively, but it is a touch distracting. More than anything, it’s a helpful reminder that what we’re watching is a live production, capable of the kinds of unfortunate accidents or incredible spontaneity that theater is known for.
When you can watch and extras
Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s deal with Disney, we can rise up at our discretion and enjoy our favorite Hamilton moments with a few clicks. Debuting alongside the filmed edition of the play will be a behind-the-scenes documentary including a roundtable conversation with the original cast titled Hamilton In-Depth With Kelley Carter. If you’ve never seen Hamilton, now’s your chance.