The 400-Word Review: Hamilton
By Sean Collier
July 2, 2020
I’m not sure anyone needs a fresh critical take on “Hamilton.” If this is reaching you on, say, one of the rocky moons of Jupiter, just take the show’s quality as a given. “Hamilton” is very good. (Actually, the rocky moons of Jupiter probably have the soundtrack by now.)
Instead, then, let’s talk about this “Hamilton,” the recorded live performance being released this week to Disney+. Despite being essentially a concert film, Disney won a massive bidding war for the rights to release “Hamilton” theatrically; it was scheduled to hit theaters in October 2021. After the pandemic began, however, Disney — at least partially out of corporate benevolence, but also to significantly boost subscriber numbers — opted for this weekend’s streaming release.
As an aside: However pure or business-focused Disney’s motivations may be, this is a gift. Four months ago, it was very, very difficult to see “Hamilton” in any form; in short, you had to pay hundreds of dollars or win a lottery. Now, what was once a rare privilege is available to anyone with an internet connection for less than ten dollars. In a year full of things we cannot do, the fact that “Hamilton” is now available to be experienced on a wide scale is remarkable.
So: What of this particular version? Filmed in 2016 with the original principal cast, this “Hamilton” is cobbled together from a few live performances. Originally filmed as part of a documentary, it is thorough and intimate, even if it’s not precisely intended for this viewing. Had director Thomas Kail, also the director of the original production, known that this work was bound for wide consumption, he might’ve filmed it more like one of the recent televised musical specials, with cameras on-stage; instead, “Hamilton” is mostly presentational.
That hardly matters, however. Whatever might be lost in presenting the show from a fly-on-the-wall perspective is made up for in the immediacy and intimacy of the experience. Our eyes and ears are closer to the cast than all but the best seats in the house; we see more of the masterful performances of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Phillipa Soo than most audience members ever did.
There’s a reason why “Hamilton” connected with so many who had access to nothing but the original cast recording: In any form, it’s a masterpiece. Whatever the shortcomings of the format, “Hamilton” is “Hamilton,” and it’s brilliant.
My Rating: 9/10
“Hamilton” is available for streaming on Disney+.