To wax lyrical at this point about the merits of the musical Hamilton is surely a redundant exercise. There can only be so much conversation, reaction, plaudits, and awards before you just accept that Lin Manuel Miranda’s journey to fashion this theatrical juggernaut from a whimsical purchase at an airport bookstore six years prior merits all the hype.
Apart from the Pre-Covid Fortunates who have seen the show live in New York, the UK, or one of the other touring productions, this filmed performance featuring the original cast will almost certainly be the only chance most have to see the show before (fingers crossed) the Australian production opens in Sydney in March 2021.
But there is a redundancy as well as a risk in the act of capturing a theatrical production on film. The source of many of theatre’s greatest challenges and rewards is that it is inherently ephemeral. From show to show, no performances are the same. And (despite The Mousetrap’s best efforts) no show runs forever. With film, the visceral experience of being live in the audience is obviously gone, so all you can do is try to capture the emotion and heart of the piece and hope it’s enough.
And boy is it. Thanks to a combination of superb live performances, along with filmed moments surely done sans audience, this filmed performance of Hamilton is magnificent viewing. Miranda’s writing is clever, effortlessly doing that difficult thing of fulfilling the needs of a number, developing character, and driving the story along all at the same time. One of the best surprises – regardless of all the press, clips, and recordings – are all the smaller moments and details not really mentioned or noticed until they play out in front of you:
Such as Phillipa Soo, who gives a phenomenal performance as Alexander Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler, especially in how wonderfully she traverses the show’s compressed storytelling – conveying years of betrayal, grief, and forgiveness in her face and physicality, let alone that final four wall breaking gasp that ends it all; Sydney James Harcourt catching the eye early on, emerging from the ensemble with a large open book in hand all tumbles and twirls; and the music underneath Leslie Odom Jr’s superb performance as Burr, which degrades and darkens every time he returns with more exposition.
The sound design and physicality of the rewind leading into Renée Elise Goldsberry’s glorious effort with Satisfied; the miracles that are each of Jonathan Groff’s appearances as King George III, his extraordinary voice (and over-salivation suiting a character known partly for his madness) and crown balancing being unforgettable; or Ariana DeBose increasingly taking on the role of death, from unassuming interactions with character who later perish to literally being a bullet whether one early on that misses Alexander until being the one at the climax that hits the target.
The film is about as perfect a document can get of one the best musicals. Despite not capturing the experience of viewing it live, it still engages and entertains. Hopefully, it will also serve to also increase the appetite for the Australian debut next year. Not to be missed!
Hamilton is currently screening on Disney Plus. For more information, visit: www.disneyplus.com for details.
Image: Jonathan Groff as King George III in Hamilton – photo by Joan Marcus