As I heard about the enormous critical and commercial success of a certain Broadway musical four years ago, I wondered about how it could be transferred to movie screen like some other successful Broadway musicals, and now here comes a sort of answer to my question. Although it remains bound to stage as the recording of three live performances stitched together, “Hamilton” supremely works thanks to many other reasons besides its excellent music and lyrics, and its 160-minutes running time passed faster than expected during my viewing.
The musical, which is inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 acclaimed biography, chronicles the life and career of Alexadner Hamilton, who is vigorously played by its Tony-winning writer/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. As reflected by “My Shot”, Hamilton in the musical is a passionate and intelligent man constantly driven by his ambition and the thoughts of “millions of things I haven’t done”, and the musical gives a fictional presentation of his bold, relentless pursuit of achievement and legacy through not only him but also others who happened to get involved with him in one way or another.
The period background of the musical is America, 1776, and Hamilton happens to be at the right spot and the right time for his irrepressible ambition. At that time, America was about to enter the Revolution War, and the possibility of the new nation draws the attention of not only Hamilton but also some other young dudes including Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), who comes to befriend Hamilton during their amiable accidental encounter, but, already told to us in advance, later becomes a bitter political opponent who is going to be known as “a damn fool who shot him”.
While going through those obligatory historical moments such as the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, the story of the musical often revolves around the clashing difference in personality and viewpoint between Hamilton and Burr. While Hamilton is usually blunt and forthright in his ambitious political advance, Burr is more discrete and reserved (“Talk less; smile more”, he advises to Hamilton early in the story) despite having his own big ambition, and the tension between them is gradually accumulated as they find themselves antagonizing each other more than once in the middle of the tumultuous political circumstance in US after the Revolution War.
The second half of the musical rocks as much as its first half as throwing a series of amusing political situations fueled by competitive musical mood. After the arrival of Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Digs, who also plays Marquis de Lafayette in the first half), Hamilton comes to face several difficult problems to be handled, and the situation gets worse for him during the following absence of George Washington (Christopher Jackson), who is like a father figure to him besides being his major political backer before making a wise and thoughtful decision of leaving Washington D.C. after serving as the US President twice.
The musical also pays considerable attention to Hamilton’s personal life, which is mainly represented by his relationship with his wife Eliza (Phillipa Soo) and her older sister Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), who respectively provide female perspectives to the story as two substantial female characters in the musical. While clearly discerning that Hamilton is her ideal match in more than one aspect, Agenlica gives up her love for practical reasons including her dear younger sister’s growing love toward Hamilton, and we accordingly get a harrowing emotional moment as she sings “Satisfied”.
All these and other highlight moments in the musical are vividly and energetically presented on the screen by director/co-producer Thomas Kail, who was also the director of the 2016 Broadway run, and his technical crew members including cinematographer Declan Quinn, who is no stranger to shooting a live performance as shown from his last collaboration with late Jonathan Demme in “Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids” (2016). While Quinn’s cameras usually look direct at the stage from the front side, the cameras fluidly move as the movie flawlessly shuffles between different camera angles, and we come to appreciate more of the performances as well as the first-rate technical qualities demonstrated on the stage, though it goes without saying that nothing beats watching a live stage performance for yourself.
While Miranda is indubitably the center of the show, he lets the other cast members have plenty of moments to shine. While Leslie Odom Jr., who won a Best Actor Tony instead of Miranda, has a showstopper moment with “The Room Where It Happened”, other actors including Phillipa Soo, Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Christopher Jackson are equally outstanding, and Jonathan Groff is delightfully haughty and obnoxious as King George III. It is notable that most of the characters in the musical, who, of course, were all Caucasian in real life, are played by colored performers, and that casting choice, which was intended by Miranda from the very beginning, surely induces some thoughts and reflections on how the American history has been told and regarded by its people during its 224 years.
In conclusion, “Hamilton”, which was supposed to be released in US in next October but was instead to be released on Disney+ two days ago, is an entertaining and admirable alternative for you if you did not get a chance to experience the 2016 Broadway run or any other live performance of the musical. Indeed, it is as good as I heard from others, and I willing to revisit it instead of saying, well, “What did I miss?”