3.5 out of 5 stars

The Broadway sensation Hamilton proves that even a global pandemic can’t keep people away from a theatre… or, a filmed version of a stage production. Filmed during a 2016 performance with the original cast at the Richard Rodgers Theater, Broadway, Hamilton is now streaming on Disney+, and the experience largely lives up to the hype that’s surrounded this production since its 2015 premiere.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (who also wrote the script based on a book by Ron Chernow), plays Alexander Hamilton in a play that takes us through his formative years to the early days of the United States of America. It’s a story about love, war, and finding one’s place in this world. Hamilton is portrayed as a driven man seemingly destined to die before reaching old age (many times he muses about living long past his own mortality).

hamilton (2020)

It’s a fun and informative story, even for those who consider themselves to be American history buffs. Miranda not only cements his place a bonafide big stage sensation, but also one of the great creative forces of his generation. As the final curtain comes down, we should expect plenty of equally as ground-breaking endeavours from him.

Everything about Hamilton is fantastic; the original music, the amazing choreography, and the stellar performances. With a cast that includes Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr., Phillipa Soo, and many others, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better ensemble anywhere. And with a delightful blend of rap, hip-hop, jazz, and classical music, the cast weaves an engaging and entertaining tale of one of the most intriguing founding fathers of America.

Where Hamilton fails is with the cinematic side of this production. Only the crankiest of critics could find fault with the staging or the performances, but turning this sensation into a quality movie is no simple task.

The biggest obstacle is how to replicate a three-dimensional experience one enjoys when seated as part of a live audience. The picture quality (available and reviewed in 4K Ultra HD in the US) is fantastic giving home viewers a true appreciation for the costumes, set design, and use of lighting, however. The stage production is simply incredible and the quality of the images certainly provide ample opportunity to enjoy that from your sofa. Likewise, sound quality is crisp and has tremendous depth (although I can’t imagine appreciating the nuisances if I wasn’t blessed with a nicely equipped home theatre surround sound system).

The drawbacks to director Thomas Kail’s film version of Hamilton is that it’s not much of a film. In fact, during sequences where Kail and the film crew seem to be doing the most “work”, the results here are disappointing. Several cameras were used during the recording (including some on and above the stage), but Hamilton is at its best whenever Kail stays with one shot for an extended period of time and is deliberate in switching the angles. The problem is that Kail rarely shows restraint. Too often viewers are subjected to rapidly switching angles during musical crescendos or other dramatic moments. At best, it’s a minor distraction, but it’s sometimes downright dizzying.

Although the urge to use all the filmmaking tools at his discretion must have been enormous, to put his stamp on this whole endeavour and offer something new to those who’ve seen the play, Kail perhaps should have taken a minimalist approach. The real beauty takes place on the stage and although that medium has limits that cinema doesn’t, one cannot simply employ multiple camera angles and post-production audio work to create a film-like experience.

As a stage production, Hamilton is astonishingly good… but in this medium, the result sits somewhere between beautifully flawed and irritatingly imperfect. But in these uncertain times when major theatre productions have already cancelled the remainder of their 2020 season, being able to enjoy Hamilton from the comfort of your sofa is an unexpected summer treat.

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Cast & Crew

director: Thomas Kail.
writers: Lin-Manuel Miranda (inspired by the book ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow).
starring: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff, Chris Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos & Phillipa Soo.