I have many, many thoughts on the restrictive nature of Broadway. I understand some of it, but it also denies people who could get interested in Broadway the ability to get interested. The one musical that broke that was Hamilton, the historical hip-hop musical. It broke that barrier through the album alone, but unless you were lucky you were unable to see the show proper.
That had changed with Disney Plus releasing Hamilton as a full camera stage production (one of the two good things Disney+ has done. No Mandalorian is not the other thing). So now that it is available to all, how is the musical?
Well good obviously. This filmed stage performance of the musical in 2016 (nice to know they were sitting on this for so long) follows the life of Alexander Hamilton from an opening number setting up the events of his life, to finding friends in New York, the American Revolution, time in Washington’s cabinet, and after till his eventual death at the hands of friend-turned-rival, Aaron Burr.
There is so much good that has probably already been said that it’s hard to find new places to even jump in. The first element that jumps to me is how tight the music and lyrics are. It knows just how to rhyme in ways so quick, fresh, and with a sense of spontaneity that it makes it seem like it was done with ease. Similarly th reuse of lyrics and leitmotifs always find a way to add a new twist to those lines that make them feel fresh and give earlier uses more context going back to them.
Additionally all the actors and singing is wonderful. There are no real weaknesses in the cast, only underused characters and actors. They are only under used because they are so interesting to see and don’t want them removed from the show. The standout for this is King George. He is played so well. He gives the perfect snide, snooty, and abusive/controlling boyfriend to perfection that it makes sense why he is so loved. Other actors in the main cast such as those who play Aaron Burr gives a lot of depth and conflictedness. The reuse of actors or Lafayette and Mulligen as Thomas Jefferson and Madison really lets them flex and have far more fun with their roles.
The weak link in the cast also goes back to the biggest issue with the show as a whole, Alexander Hamilton and Lin Manuel-Miranda.
Now Hamilton and Lin’s performance therein is good. It is well acted, sung, and works for the part he is given. The other issue is that the part given is a mess. A mess so far in Hamilton feels lost in his own story. So much of his story feels like it happens to him with him getting to make assertions on his choices like he’s playing a video game of his life and gets to pick two options like a TellTale or Supermassive game. I think the issue is that he does not narrate much of the story, and is constantly wondered about and cut away from to stuff that does not always feel important. A good example is Angelica Schyler’s song about how she is in love with him and the write letters back and forth. It is a fun historical tidbit and great song to be sure and is thrown back at him when he reveals his own scandal, but takes time away from digging into Hamilton as a person.
The best example of this is how so many characters react to his constant need to write and talk and express his ideas, but we never get it from his perceptive. He never shares why constantly writing is important other than he thinks he’s going to die at any time. That works as subtext, but bringing it out and to the fore would help. There are other examples but that’s the best one.
The only other issue is how simple the set is. It works well during the dance sequences but sometimes leads to white room syndrome. Where, because the setting had so little detail the characters feel like they’re just talking in a blank room. It makes it hard to follow where certain events are occurring. Not a big issue, but is distracting and could see being worse if watched in person where you couldn’t guarantee a great seat to watch it all.
I think Hamilton faces a problem similar to HBOs Watchmen. It’s name is wrong. It should be called something else. Sure, the story is based on a biography of Alexander Hamilton, but the story goes so far beyond that, and covers so much more than it feels like keeping it to the name Hamilton holds it back and causes that unnecessary problem of Hamilton getting lost in his own show (look or listen to the Hadestown musical for a better naming example). It’s still great and I will probably rewatch it or listen to the album more times than I should, but has a few problems I’ve never heard discussed.
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