This summer’s bargain may well be a subscription for one month for the new Disney+ streaming service. The 2016 Broadway production of “Hamilton” with the original cast is available on demand for the foreseeable future if you are a subscriber. If you have never seen this groundbreaking musical on stage, either on Broadway or locally on tour, this is your shot. (You may want to catch it again, even if you have seen it on stage.) This production, produced by its writer, composer, and lyricist, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and its director, Thomas Kail, was directed and acted over several shows to bring the live stage performance to the screen. For many it will only make you want to see it in person if you get a chance. The show is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of our first Secretary of the Treasury. For some who can’t afford the hefty ticket prices or live in areas where it will be a decade until it plays in smaller venues, this is the opportunity to appreciate great and contemporary musical theatre. While on Broadway, it won 11 Tony Awards and was nominated for five others. Miranda received the Pulitzer for Drama.
The production was originally to have its theatrical release in October 2021. However, due to COVID-19, Disney pushed that date up to July 3, 2020 on its new Disney+ platform. This weekend was chosen to help celebrate America’s Independence Day. The play is based on the life and career of Alexander Hamilton played by Miranda. It starts in the New York City of 1776 and follows his close relationship with George Washington (Christopher Jackson); his marriage to Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo); his attraction to her sister, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry); his youthful friendships with Lafayette (Daveed Diggs); Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan), a soldier for Washington; statesman, John Laurens (Anthony Ramos), an early abolitionist and member of the Continental Army; and the notorious Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom, Jr.). In Act II, it follows his political relationships with Jefferson (Diggs) and Madison (Onaodowan). Of course, we know his friendship to Burr soured over the years, leading to their infamous duel.
Comic relief is provided by scenes of King George III (Jonathan Goff) from the time of the Revolution to the election of Adams. His role, and that of the patriarch, Philip Schuyler and James Reynolds (both played by James Harcourt), are the only ones not cast with actors of color. However, it only makes the story more relevant to present day audiences.
The score is also composed using a variety of contemporary musical styles, including rap and hip-hop, with some soulful ballads thrown into the mix. Musical director Alex Lacamore does a masterful job with the orchestration.
Of course, Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ is unforgettable.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography also combines elements of musical theatre and ballet with hip-hop to make a visually exciting production. The only flaw for me is, due to close-ups, we miss some of the dancing at times. The stellar performances are due to the fine cast and the direction of Kail.
The opening number, “Alexander Hamilton” sets the tone for this fast-paced musical. It takes a huge volume of lyrics to cover so much history in about two and half hours. “My Shot” is one of the great show stoppers and is reprised throughout the musical. “Helpless” is a tender love song sung by Eliza and “Satisfied” is a Broadway diva song for Angelica. “You’ll be Back,” “What Comes Next?” and “I Know Him” are humorous vocalizations for King George III. In “Dear Theodosia,” Burr serenades us with a sweet ballad in a duet with Hamilton, as they sing to their new offspring. Washington’s farewell address is captured in “One Last Time.” “Burn” is a literal torch song for Eliza, and “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” a melody by Eliza after Hamilton’s death, is sweet and wraps up many loose ends.
Of course, Miranda’s Hamilton is unforgettable. He ages from a teen, leaving his home in Nevis in the Caribbean and settling in New York to a statesman in his forties. Leslie Odom, Jr. does the same with Burr. He captures the ambition and lack of principles of the man who almost became president. Soo’s soprano voice and sweet charm makes Eliza a sympathetic character even through her stormy marriage to Hamilton whom she loved dearly. Goldberry’s Angelica is another memorable performance. Her singing is one of the many high points of “Hamilton.” Jackson’s Washington is noble and strong. We have no trouble believing he is the father of this country. He also becomes a father figure for the bastard-orphan, Hamilton. Groff is a “hoot” as King George III (which won him a Tony nomination) – short-sighted, a little crazy, and quite foppish. Onaodowan as Mulligan, a member of the Continental Army and drinking buddy to Hamilton in Act I, becomes James Madison in Act II. Diggs as the Marquis de Lafayette is the third of Hamilton’s friends who would influence his beliefs and his career. In Act II he plays one of Hamilton’s political adversaries, Thomas Jefferson. Ramos adroitly portrays the rebellious Laurens and the teenage son of Hamilton, Philip. All three bring something special and impressive to their roles. Jasmine Cephas Jones is the third Schuyler daughter, Peggy, but then plays the steamy role of Hamilton’s mistress, Maria Reynolds. Her portrayal of the latter allows us to believe that the loving husband of the sweet Eliza would give into temptation and betray his family.
The rest of the cast is made up of one of the best ensembles in recent years. Harcourt as Philip Schuyler, the blackmailer, James Reynolds, and a member of the Ensemble; Ephraim Sykes as George Eacker and Ensemble; and Jon Rua as Charles Lee and Ensemble, give fine performances. Rounding out the Ensemble are the talented Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana DeBose, Hope Easterbrook, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson (also Samuel Seabury), Elizabeth Judd, Austin Smith, and Seth Stewart.
The set design by David Korins and costume design by Paul Tazewell both blend modern techniques and materials with period designs which allows the cast to go from scene to scene and the flexibility to perform powerful dance numbers. The lighting design by Howell Binkley and sound design by Nevin Steinberg were also notable but harder to judge on screen.
You can sign up for Disney+ for just one month for $6.99 and see “Hamilton” as often as you like. It is the best bargain of the summer and a terrific history lesson about the founding of this country and its past leaders.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes with a very brief Intermission.
Advisory: Although the language has been cleaned-up for Disney viewing, there are still several four-letter words and strong language. There are also some implied sex scenes, though not explicit. Not recommended for very young or impressionable children.