The living room where it happens- Hamilton
Hamilton opened on Broadway in July 2015 and was nominated for 16 Tony Awards, eventually walking away with 11 wins. When it crossed to London’s West End it won another seven Olivier Awards, so it’s no surprise that people, Kelly Bishop included, were excited for Hamilton to come to Disney’s streaming service, Disney Plus.
The musical follows the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, in two acts, drawing on pop, hip hop, and R&B alongside a traditional musical theatre style. The balance between rap and singing allows for those not well versed in musical theatre to be welcomed into the genre with open arms.
Back in March, before Covid19, Hamilton was a nearly sold-out show and a ticket in the stalls could set you back almost £200 for a Saturday show. So imagine the delight for theatre-goers when at the beginning of June it was announced that Disney Plus had bought the rights to a recording of the original cast. Not only would people get to see the show, but they get to see it in one of its purest forms, with Lin Manuel Miranda as the titular character.
Miranda does a great job throughout this show, particularly in the second act which deals heavily with the pressures of Hamilton’s government role, disloyalty and grief. His visible distress, shown so close, is captivating. It’s easy to imagine the same emotion can be seen even in the back seats of the upper circle.
However, it is not just his performance that should be applauded. Daveed Diggs, as Marquis de Lafayette, raps at speed with a French accent through Guns and Ships. He then, for the second act, plays Thomas Jefferson, a complete switch in style to a more bluesy sound playing comedically off of Okieriete Onaodowan’s James Maddison.
Christopher Jackson as George Washington is a powerhouse. Performing History Has Its Eyes on You and One Last Time with the softness you'd expect of a late 90s R&B singer but also the power of a preacher respectively.
King George III played by Jonathon Groff is equally menacing and hilarious, helping to balance the tone. He usually appears to offset some major life change for our protagonists. You’ll Be Back comes just after Hamilton makes his group of friends and starts a revolution, What Comes Next follows their victory in Yorktown and I Know Him punctuates Washington stepping down from office. It splits the musical into its three time periods over two acts while poking fun at the British (of-course).
With this, you may have realised that none of the female roles have been highlighted. Well, that would be because, discounting the ensemble dancers who are all fantastic in their own right, there are just three principle females playing four roles: Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry), Eliza (Phillipa Soo), and Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds (Jasmine Cephas Jones). Of the 46 songs, approximately 16 feature sung roles by these actors.
While Hamilton made great strides to cast its leads as black actors, it misses the mark in giving women a voice. Jasmine Cephas Jones’ character Peggy sings five solo lines, three of which are her own name. Her act two-character Maria Reynolds sings approximately 26. There is one other mentioned woman in the musical, Theodosia, a woman married to a British officer in Georgia, conducting an affair with Hamilton’s rival Aaron Burr, played by Leslie Odom Jr.
Despite this, all three principle female actors perform with power and emotion throughout. Particular emphasis should be given to Phillipa Soo who captures the audience whenever she is on stage, from bright-eyed in Helpless to grieving and sombre with Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story which closes the show.
Being able to watch in the comfort of your own home gives you a number of benefits compared to a trip to the theatre. The stage recording puts you right up close to the actors with the best possible angle of every scene rather than being caught with either someone tall sat in front of you or a simple safety railing. The vocals are as close to that of the original cast recording as it will ever be again.
You also have the added benefit of being able to cry in the relative privacy of your own home, for £5.99 a month.
Overwhelmingly, this musical film is just what is needed right now. It has lines throughout that have been seen in the Black Lives Matter protests and features a predominantly black cast that is there as a reminder that not enough mainstream shows display diversity like Hamilton.
The show acts as a reminder that due to Covid19 our theatres, cinemas, and other art forms will be struggling. Filmed theatre has helped to keep us going through quarantine, the least we can do, when it is safe to do so, is head back to the venues and support our arts and entertainment creators.
Subscribe here to Fresh Take for more opinions on the world of film and television.
And subscribe to our podcast here.