What the Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning blockbuster lacks in live energy it makes up for with magnificent cinematography and by using the original cast of the stage show which first opened on Broadway five years ago.
Shot across three days in 2016, a few weeks before the original cast finished their contracts, the film is not a bells-and-whistles Hollywood adaptation of a musical like Hairspray or Grease. Rather, the musical’s original director, Thomas Kail, assembled a crack team of filmmakers, put them in front of the stage and lovingly captured the story the way it was intended to be: as a piece of theatre.
Nine cameras recorded two full performances before live audiences. Between shows, the makers refilmed the production to allow for angles that would be impossible for audiences to see within the theatre including close-ups of intimate and dramatic moments and sweeping overhead shots that capture the entire stage.
The film version lets viewers see Miranda in his star turn as the title character; Phillipa Soo in her searing performance as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza; Christopher Jackson’s George Washington; Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson; and Jonathan Groff as King George III.
For music theatre fans who didn’t get to see Hamilton on Broadway as I did, the opportunity to witness these roles played as they were originally intended is invaluable, and for everyone else it is a treat to relive.
The story follows Hamilton’s rough start in the world as a “bastard, orphan, son of a whore”, through his time as George Washington’s right-hand man, to becoming the first treasurer of the United States.
People of colour tell the history of America, one built on the back of immigrants, through hip-hop, R’n’B ballads and rap. The single traditional showtune is reserved for the only caucasian role in the show, that of King George.
Hamilton is the perfect introduction to musical theatre, and even if you hate musicals this might get you singing a different tune. It is modern and the sung-through presentation works brilliantly with hip-hop and rap. The show also tells a cracking story which has significant and continuing relevance to our contemporary world.
Hamilton is a masterpiece in any form. Miranda’s expert songwriting and lyrics, Kail’s strong direction and clever use of space and Andy Blankenbuehler’s extraordinary choreography, which blends street dance with traditional dance, results in a show that is fresh and original. It doesn’t take long to understand why it is such a phenomenon.
Whether you subscribe to Disney+ to see the film version or hold out until the Australian production opens in March next year, Hamilton is simply a must-see piece of theatre and it is well worth your time, and money, to do both.
Nathanael Cooper is a senior culture writer at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age with a focus on music.