Hamilton

 

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Disney’s record of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit is more timely than ever – but is not the cinematic event one might have hoped for.

   
Hamilton

Phillipa Soo, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr and Anthony Ramos

 

Having seen the film version of Hamilton, I can’t wait to see the film version. Premiered on Disney+, Thomas Kail’s filmed production was roundly acclaimed by the British broadsheets, as if ushering in a new kind of streaming event. Yet, essentially, the film remains a theatre production – captured on the bare stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway – and is no more amazing a work of cinema as any of those events streamed by NT Live. Thomas Kail, who has brought his own version of the stage show to the small screen, is in line to direct a second big-screen adaptation of Fiddler On the Roof which, presumably, will be a genuine cinematic beast, complete with exterior locations. So, Kail’s record of Hamilton is only as good as the award-winning musical written and scored by Lin-Manuel Miranda, about the founding father Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804).

 

Unarguably the biggest theatrical phenomenon of the decade, Hamilton – which garnered an unprecedented 16 Tony nominations, and won eleven – is a revolutionary work, literally. Told in a variety of musical forms, notably employing hip-hop for much of its narrative thrust, the show re-writes white American history with a mixed-race cast, with Hamilton himself played by Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent. Hamilton’s political rival, the white lawyer Aaron Burr, is played by the African-American Leslie Odom Jr, while Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, is portrayed by the Sino-American Phillipa Soo. Much of this is played to comic effect, as is the representation of England’s King George III as a spittle-spewing toff, hammed up deliciously by Jonathan Groff (the voice of Kristoff in Frozen).

 

The real magic of the musical is Miranda’s dexterous wordplay, which stretches over 44 songs (Thomas Jefferson: “So quick witted.” Hamilton: “Alas, I admit it”). However, on Disney’s recording, the music is so loud that much of the verbal dexterity is drowned out, leaving large tracts of narrative hard to comprehend. And while there are terrific vocal performances, in particular from Phillipa Soo and Renée Elise Goldsberry, Miranda’s own voice seems rather reedy and even grating at times.

 

However, one cannot but stand back and admire the man’s prodigious talent as a composer and lyricist, even if his central performance is not the show’s greatest asset. It may be sacrilege to say it, but Miranda’s protagonist failed to capture the soul of this critic. Hamilton is a microcosm of history, channelled through the innovation of America’s own musical legacy, but, for the record, this is merely a record, however deftly edited by Jonah Moran. Once Kail has completed his duties on Fiddler On the Roof, let’s hope he will be asked to direct a full-blown film version of Hamilton. Meanwhile, this edition is due to be released in cinemas sometime next year.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast (alphabetical): Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jonathan Groff, Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Phillipa Soo.

 

Dir Thomas Kail, Pro Thomas Kail, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeffrey Seller, Screenplay Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ph Declan Quinn, Pro Des David Korins, Ed Jonah Moran, Music Lin-Manuel Miranda, Costumes Paul Tazewell.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/5000 Broadway Productions/Nevis Productions/Old 320 Sycamore Pictures/RadicalMedia-Walt Disney

160 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 3 July 2020. Available exclusively on Disney+. Cert. 12.