Live theater is fundamentally anti-populist, undemocratic. The room where a performance happens is always restricted by time and place, not to mention a ticket price. Depending on the show, that entrance fee, which separates theater from the potential theatergoer, can be laughably prohibitive (see The Lion King, The Producers and The Book of Mormon). Enter Hamilton, a cultural blockbuster with the highest barrier to entry yet.

Though it’s already collected over a billion dollars in cash receipts since its Broadway debut in 2015, few could afford to witness Lin-Manuel Miranda’s civics masterpiece. Until now, that is. It arrives at the relatively low price of a Disney+ subscription ($6.99 a month in the U.S.), one that’s easily canceled. This extraordinary history lesson is the first juggernaut to turn the Great White Way upside-down since Rent, a totemic musical for Miranda the playwright and an obvious inspiration for Hamilton, his follow-up to 2008’s In the Heights.

The hype surrounding Hamilton has long built to a teakettle scream. As the old saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Well, we can now all readily sup from a filmed performance of Hamilton, comfortably in our living rooms (or, in a pinch, on our gadgets).

When I reviewed the show’s D.C. premiere at the Kennedy Center in 2018, it felt like a distinctively singular live experience, one that its cast album could only approximate. “Imagine watching a DVD of Casablanca projected in a neighbor’s backyard, versus a 70mm print screened in an Art Deco theater,” I wrote at the time. “You’re watching an immortal film either way, but the former pales in comparison.”

This version of Hamilton, filmed over three days at the Richard Rodgers Theatre with the original cast, comes thrillingly close to matching the joy of an in-person theatrical experience. Credit director Thomas Kail, who shoots the show (which he also directed for the stage) with utmost artistry and care. This is no fusty Great Performances adaptation, but a fluid and kinetic translation of a work that could have easily arrived leaden in the wrong hands.

What more is there to say about the work itself? The show has existed long enough in the culture that another “review” of Hamilton either preaches to the converted or provides fodder for naysayers. The performances are, without controversy, (mostly) unimpeachable and range from fabulous to even-more-so. Leslie Odom Jr.’s Aaron Burr is the show’s center of gravity and emcee, and his songs (“Wait for It,” “The Room Where It Happens”) are the finest of the bunch. Daveed Diggs, a natural-born showman, owns the stage, whether as Marquis de Lafayette or Thomas Jefferson. Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo bring pathos to what is essentially a human tale, the former with her act-one showstopper (“Satisfied”), the latter with Hamilton’s devastating finale. Only Miranda, the man himself, seems outmatched by his castmates.

In 2009, a baby-faced Lin-Manuel performed a nascent version of the show’s title track at a White House event in front of Barack and Michelle Obama, to some good-natured laughter. Seven years later, an eternity really, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was in the audience at the Richard Rogers Theatre, where he got a post-curtain earful from the cast. But this apotheosis of an immigrant, who became “the ten-dollar Founding Father,” resonates most in 2020, particularly when his story – and America’s – is retold by people of color. Now everyone can relish (or debate) Hamilton, democratically, in its full-ish glory. Send up the fireworks.

This version of Hamilton comes thrillingly close to matching the joy of an in-person theatrical experience.
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Theatrical fireworks
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