Health experts say to avoid crowds and large gatherings this holiday weekend and during the current COVID-19 surge.
As if you needed another reason to stay inside and celebrate the red, white and blue by watching (and re-watching) the filmed version of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blood-drumming, Pulitzer Prize-winning 2015 musical about Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the polymath and provocative Founding Father was also George Washington’ s “right-hand man,” founder of the Treasury, and infamous loser of a duel with Aaron Burr.
This filmed version, streaming on the Disney Plus channel ($6.99 a month, considerably cheaper than the $200+ price for a ticket), director Thomas Kail culled material from three regular live performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in June 2016, and features the original Broadway cast in all their wildly-talented glory.
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The many sides of Hamilton and his legacy are brought to life in this dazzling filmed musical that incorporates a sung-through (more like rapped-through) structure to tell the story of a man and a young country with the impatience and patriotic fervor of the Founding Fathers and the quest for liberty.
While this is one of the most successful stage-to-film adaptations seen to date, just by its nature it lacks the total sensory immersion and shared energy of the live theater experience. However, Kail (who won a Tony for this direction of the stage show) tries to capture the intensity of Hamilton by letting us get up close and personal with the cast—something usually only afforded to people in the first few rows of the theater.
We see close-up facial expressions, as well as interactions and reactions between the show’s stars and the chorus and dancers that we might have missed in real time. The camera puts us in “the room where it happens.”
Yet it is also remains firmly a theatrical production. The set is confined to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, handsomely showing off David Korin’s wood-planked warehouse set, Howell Binkley’s searchlight beams of light and the impeccable tailoring and rich pastels of Paul Tazewell’s costumes.
You see the head of orchestra conductor Alex Lacamoire in the orchestra pit, and notice Phillipa Soo (playing Hamilton’s steadfast wife, Eliza), with tears rolling down her cheeks when she sings in anguish of her husband’s betrayal.
The movie allows us to savor Leslie Odom Jr. seducing the camera as Aaron Burr, his thirst for success memorably displayed in “The Room Where it Happens.” His facial expressions betray everything and nothing, both when alone or in highly-charged exchanges with an on-fire Miranda as Hamilton.
We also get a from-the-wings style view of Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, a fluid mix of hip-hop, break dancing, military rhythms, martial arts and a smattering of traditional Broadway hoofing. And while we’re all up-in-the-face, the close ups of Jonathan Groff wittily a-sneer as royal commentator (“You’ll Be Back”) King George III are a genuine hoot.
Maybe I’m feeling all Founding Mothers here, but the female roles in the Revolution really come through in the filmed version. Phillipa Soo makes kindness an artistry as Eliza, a loyal wife who is not above getting all judgy when the situation merits it. You keenly feel her pain at her husband’s actions and the tragedies that life throws at Eliza, uncaring that she’s rich.
Renée Elise Goldsberry is a revelation as Eliza’s brainy elder sister Angelica Schuyler, who falls in love with Hamilton at first sight, along with her sister (“Helpless”), but is realistic about having to marry for money and position—Hamilton is penniless—as expressed in the flashback vignettes of the magnificent “Satisfied.”
Daveed Diggs showboats with style as a flamboyant Thomas Jefferson (“What Did I Miss?” marks his jazzy return from France at the top of Act 2) and in the first act an equally ebullient Marquis de Lafayette, the Revolutionary War hero, an immigrant “who got the job done.” It is hard to reconcile the image of the white-haired dude with the uncomfortable false teeth after seeing Christopher Jackson’s broad-shouldered, heroic portrayal of George Washington.
Hamilton blows off the powdered-wig fustiness of our perceptions of America’s founding fathers and mothers. It goes beyond musical entertainment to remind us of our nation’s shared purpose and heritage in these fractious times.
Hamilton. Book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda . Inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
PG-13. Contains profanity and adult material. 160 minutes.
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