For those of you who are unaware, the original Hamilton musical was quite a huge hit when it was released on Broadway just a few years ago. I was seeing so many people posting pictures outside theaters, excited to see the show in real life. My own girlfriend at the time was even a fanatic.
Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a “musical-phile.” But I will say that there is a musical bug in me that I like to entertain every once in a while. Never really seen a real musical in a theater. But there are plenty of musical films that I appreciate, like Sweeney Todd, La La Land, Fiddler On the Roof, and Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and even some animated musicals like The Lion King and Prince Of Egypt. I was intrigued to check Hamilton out, although I think the popularity of it was making me hesitant. (Also, I was not wanting to pay for tickets to a show that I would have to drive for hours that I hadn’t seen before.)
But now, thanks to Disney, I was able to watch the filmed version of this Broadway hit. And I ended up liking it a lot more than I expected to! While it isn’t the same as the cinematic films I listed earlier as it is a live stage performance, I was still able to appreciate it and was captivated by it more than I expected.
Hamilton is about… uh… Hamilton! Alexander Hamilton, one of our Founding Fathers of the United States and a great military leader and economist. The musical—with a fun mixture of hip-hop, R&B, and Broadway—tells the incredible story of how Alexander Hamilton came to the colonies as a young man and went from fighting in The Revolutionary War to being a key leader in the United States’ early years and how all that led to the infamous gun duel that took his life. Yeah, spoiler alert, he dies. But… it’s literally in history.
We also get a look into Hamilton’s romance and how raising a family affected his life. What is also intriguing about this play is how it also draws attention to the lives around him, such as Aaron Burr, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. In certain ways, it’s the supporting cast that makes the story compelling as much as the main lead.
I should also mention that the main cast is all intentionally performed by people of different ethnicities. I’m sure there are some people who could find reasons to boycott this film/play, accusing it of “rewriting history.” But I personally didn’t really see it that way. I saw it as an artistic way of portraying history, showing that people of color and immigrants were as much a part of the building of our country and I think that’s a good lesson as long as you know the actual history. (Although, I would advise against the behind-the-scenes feature on Disney+ as they try to relate it to current politics. I don’t believe you have to be right-wing or left-wing to appreciate this film.)
Speaking of the cast, the character ensemble and cast is quite compelling! I’m always pleasantly surprised when a theater actor is just as compelling as an actor in a studio film, despite the fact they are on a stage in front of hundreds of people. And the fact that they are running around, singing and dancing, seemed to have no affect on their performance.
My personal favorite I think would be Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr. A character that is often viewed as the villain in Alexander Hamilton’s narrative is given more nuance and the progression of his character is given more insight and Odom really gives it his all in his portrayal.
The only performance that I may have issues with would be… Alexander Hamilton. I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is a fine actor and could probably do amazing in other roles. I just felt that he was an odd choice for the role. I don’t really think he has the most amazing voice. He can carry a tune, sure. But sometimes, from his speaking and singing voice, I get “awkward teenager” vibes from him. Sorta reminds me of Matthew Broderick’s voice. I don’t know, I may already be getting used to his portrayal. But those were my initial thoughts. He certainly does conjure up an emotional performance when he needs to.
But wait! What about the music?! Of course, the music is one of the most important aspects of a musical, if not the most important.
I mentioned that an old girlfriend of mine was a huge fan of Hamilton, despite the fact that she had not seen it at the time and had only heard the soundtrack. I always wondered how that could be and now I understand: the script is practically all led by the songs. All dialogue is said through song. Not really sure if a lot of musicals are written this way. But I was surprised. I didn’t feel like the film was affected negatively by this at all, though, and it really enhances the flow of the story.
And the songs are great! Most of the lyrics are cleverly written, but not so much that you can’t understand what they’re singing and/or rapping about. And the music is a lot of fun when it needs to be and equally emotional and moving when it needs to be. The blend of hip-hop, R&B, and Broadway is very creative and brings out the heart of the musical. Each character seems to have a particular style to their songs and I enjoy the diversity. (I also love the fact that King George’s theme is basically a British 70s-style pop song.) I don’t think there’s any song I didn’t like. In fact, I’m listening to the soundtrack now as I’m writing this for pure entertainment!
There are only a few aspects of this film that I can critique the same way that I do for a regular film. Cinematography, for example, is very limited in this genre, and that makes total sense. But where the cinematography is lacking, the choreography excels. Much like how camera movement and framing affect the mood of a scene, the choreography affects the mood and energy of this play. It is superb. Also, since you cannot have a camera that moves around the characters on the stage, there are moving pieces on the stage that cause the characters to rotate around the stage. It’s a very effective method of adding emotion and drama to the scene.
In conclusion, despite its length, I would recommend everyone check this out. I appreciate that it shows that even though the historical people in this story are not perfect they had great ideas and dreams they hoped would be fulfilled in this country. And even if you’re not a fan of musicals, you may find it to be a fun experience! This filmed version of the Tony award-winning musical has turned me into a “Hamilfan,” although, admittedly, the most normie version of one.
Episode 011 | Say Goodnight Kevin Podcast
Tyler Smith, film critic, podcast host, and director of the film “Reel Redemption”, joins Kevin for an exciting conversation about the history of Christian film and the state it is in today.