Back in January 2016, I was very lucky to be given a ticket by Pat to see Hamilton on Broadway and I went in cold. While people were desperate to see the show, I had no idea of the phenomena that were Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Somehow it had all slipped passed me. In the first few minutes of the musical, I realized I was seeing something special and said to myself that I better fasten my seatbelt because this was going to go by quickly and I needed to pay attention. My write-up is so simple because I had no idea that everyone else already knew about this show while I was still digesting it. I went out and bought the cast album and became more familiar with the songs. I read more and more about the musical, how it came about, the actors, and especially LMM. I told people over and over how important it had been for me to see the musical because I could finally see myself in the narrative – the story of the creation of the United States.
Since I had been so lucky to see the original cast (except for Renée Elise Goldsberry who had that performance afternoon off), I was not in a hurry to see the film when it was announced that it would be released on Disney+. Then I saw that Verizon customers could get a free year of Disney+. So, I signed up last year and thought I would watch at some point. This month I realized I had not watched anything on Disney+ — I’m not a big fan of Disney or Pixar. Or Star Wars or Marvel or even National Geographic. And time was running out for me to see the film of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton. Part of my hesitation was the idea of a filmed play or musical. What I love about live theater is what I love about live music – the moment happens, experienced by performer and audience and then it goes away to never happen again. Film and records are different – there is an art to creating something that will last forever and trying to make it perfect is part of that art. Also, I did not want the director, Tommy Kail, to decide what I should be looking at on stage. Our seats for the Broadway show had been in the last row, so we could see all the action on the stage and decide where our eyes would be. But now there would be closeups when maybe I wanted to see what the ensemble was up to.
I finally sat down to watch last Sunday. I laughed at the Hamilfication of the Disney opening. I better appreciated Howell Binkley’s lighting design. The lights for “Hurricane” were not as literal and I do not know if that was changed or if it was because I was seeing the stage from a different perspective. But now that I am much more familiar with the music and lyrics, I could spend some time appreciating just how well the lighting worked. Also, the quiet sound design by Neville Steinberg and the outstanding costumes by Paul Tazewell.
You cannot just set up a camera and film the stage all in one long shot. That would be boring. But I did miss seeing Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography as a whole because it is really outstanding. Being able to rewind and watch certain moves again and again is a gift.
This was filmed about six months after I had seen the musical and you can sometimes hear that the singers are a bit tired but pushing through. No one sounded bad – even tired they are better than 99% of the people out there. Phillipa Soo especially stood out for me this time. I thought she had a beautiful voice when I originally saw her but now, I really appreciated how quietly she showed her emotions through her singing. She is doing exactly what I try to do when I sing but I oftentimes fall short. Goldsberry’s voice is beautiful too but I think what she does can sometimes be easier. And in no way do I think what anyone did on that stage is easy – I know it takes a lot of hard work to make it look so easy.
And even though I had already seen it live, most of my experience of the songs has been through the cast album and it is always a joy to see the interplay between performer and audience, which gives the songs new meaning and new emphases at each performance.
There were at least two instances where I thought the action took place up in the scaffolding and I am not sure if it was changed for the film, later changed in the musical, or I am misremembering.
And I cried, I believe, in exactly the same two places where I cried when I saw the play.
For me, the biggest disservice done to Hamilton is giving it the label “Hip-Hop Musical.” It is so much more than that. The throwbacks to 60s pop, especially the Beatles, and other musicals add so much. Hip-hop musical makes you think that it is just a bunch of people rapping and scratching but there are some beautiful melodies and lyrics.
I am glad I did not skip watching it and I may even pay for Disney+ for a few months so that I can watch it a few more times.
By Carene Lydia Lopez