Review: HAMILTON on Disney+ Is A Gift That 'Gets The Job Done'

The stream is too good to miss, so don't throw away your shot!

By: Jul. 01, 2020

Review: HAMILTON on Disney+ Is A Gift That 'Gets The Job Done'

If you had asked me what I was most anticipating when it came to films of Broadway musicals in 2020 prior to the pandemic, I would have emphatically told you the theatrical release of IN THE HEIGHTS was poised to be my favorite film event of the year. Now, instead of taking a trip to Washington Heights in cinemas, audiences are being treated to a different Lin-Manuel Miranda musical this summer. On July 3, 2020, Disney+ will start streaming the smash hit Hamilton, filmed (mostly) live on Broadway, almost a year and half before it was scheduled to hit movie theaters on October 15, 2021.

Before I go any further in this review, I feel it is necessary to disclose that I became an employee of The Public Theater in December 2019, which presented the premiere production of Hamilton. However, like many across the world will, the first time I saw any production of Hamilton was via this Disney+ stream. Watching the expertly filmed stage capture, I quickly understood why the mostly sung-through musical has been a worldwide phenomenon and sensation. It is abundantly clear why the original Broadway cast and Miranda's music and lyrics earned every accolade, positive review, nomination, and award they received (even if I, personally, didn't find it to be quite the transformative experience that the hype and high priced Broadway tickets indicated it to be).

Review: HAMILTON on Disney+ Is A Gift That 'Gets The Job Done'

For years I have listened to Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) dreaming of what the show actually looks like in performance. Finally getting to see it on a stage via film, I was struck by how exceedingly familiar the musical felt. The structure of Hamilton is surprisingly similar to Andrew Lloyd Webber's JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, which I never recognized from the album alone. Leslie Odom Jr.'s Burr is the primary antagonist of the musical, and he exists not only as a fascinating foil to Miranda's Hamilton but also as a wonderful narrator for the production. Like Judas in SUPERSTAR, Burr's respect and veneration for the titular character allows the audience to see the musical's star from a warts-and-all vantage point that makes the character more human, less of a hero, and infinitely more relatable.

The casting for the original Broadway production of Hamilton is undeniably superb. Declan Quinn's stunning cinematography and Thomas Kail's stage and film direction highlights the mesmerizing brilliance of the original Broadway cast. Whether a full shot of the stage or in a close up, the emotionality of the individual performances is masterfully conveyed. This ensures that home audiences get to experience every ounce of heart and soul that this cast poured into these characters. Additionally, Andy Blankenbuehler's emotion driven choreography reads exceedingly well on film. There is no denying that thoughtful attention was paid to showcasing Blankenbuehler's skill for crafting palpable motivations for movement. The filmed captures of Blankenbuehler's choreography are not just effective and beautiful but also deeply powerful.

Review: HAMILTON on Disney+ Is A Gift That 'Gets The Job Done'

This filmed version also brings into focus some visual choices that may not be as readily striking from the back rows of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City as they appear on film. For example, the cast appears mostly in eggshell iterations of their costumes at the top of the show. As they are drawn out of the ensemble and into named roles, pops of color (such as a colored jacket or a gorgeously dyed, full color dress) get added to their costuming to indicate they are a named character in that scene. The color choices stick with them as the plot progresses with only a handful of exceptions. Likewise, outside of a few lanterns in the flies and desks that come on and off the stage as needed, there is very little by way of physical sets and even props. This forces viewers to really attend to every word uttered to follow the progression of the story and understand where each scene is taking place. This skillfully draws attention to the lyrical poetry of Miranda's writing as well.

Watching the streamed film, I found myself pondering the legacy of Hamilton. This musical and this cast blew doors open, forcing theater fans, producers, directors, casting agents, and the world alike to reassess their beliefs of who could portray whom on stage. Watching Miranda as Alexander Hamilton, Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, and more never felt anything less than natural. I never once found myself thinking, "But in real life, these people were white." Therefore, I can only hope that the conversations about hiring creatives and casting actors and actresses of color that Hamilton engendered are still being had and that the entirety of the theater community is benefiting from them.

Review: HAMILTON on Disney+ Is A Gift That 'Gets The Job Done'

This filmed version of Hamilton being streamed on Disney+ is truly a gift to the world. It gives those of us grieving the closure of Broadway through early 2021 a chance to experience a Broadway show and even hear a live audience react from time to time. It gives those of us who were priced out of seeing this specific cast perform the roles and show they made into Broadway legend a chance to experience that magic. It gives those of us who are still priced out of seeing Hamilton live and in person due to its deserved but unyielding popularity and consistent sell outs a chance to experience the musical on stage without lessening the desire to actually see it live and in person. It gives the world a chance to experience actors and actresses of color perform with poise, grace, sincerity, and dignity while being exalted for delivering award-winning performances. Hopefully, it also inspires new generations of theater professionals of color to create new and exciting work. Hamilton on Disney+ is truly too good to miss, so don't throw away your shot.

Images courtesy of Disney+


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