Got plans for July 3 yet? I’m dressing up, heels and all, heading to my couch and streaming Hamilton on Disney Plus. The Broadway musical hit was filmed at New York’s Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016 over the course of three days. Lyricist and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, rapper Daveed Diggs and the rest of the original cast, including Okieriete Onaodowan, Phillipa Soo and Anthony Ramos were still on stage telling the story of US founding father Alexander Hamilton.
I’m curious to see how the small-screen “live capture” version of Hamilton compares with the live performance I saw last January in San Francisco with a different cast and a much more substantial price tag than the Disney Plus monthly subscription fee.
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“One of the things that we were always running up against on Broadway is how prohibitive Broadway was for a lot of people,” cast member Daveed Diggs, who played Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, said during a Zoom press conference with the Hamilton team on June 16. “Folks just couldn’t afford the ticket. And even if you could, there are only so many seats.”
Producer and director Thomas Kail, who also directed the filmed version of Hamilton, said Disney originally planned to release the musical 15 months later than its current release date. But the team felt now, amid the many cultural limitations of the coronavirus pandemic, was the right time. “Not only are there no Hamiltons, but there’s no live performance,” the director said. “There are no concerts. There’s no Broadway. There’s no regional theater.”
Miranda, wearing a hat because of what he said was “very bad quarantine hair,” insisted on the idea of democratizing the Hamilton experience. Even after a five-year run on Broadway and multiple productions of the show being performed simultaneously, the Grammy, Emmy, Pulitzer and Tony award winner thinks more people will see Hamilton between July 3 and July 5 on Disney Plus than have already seen it altogether.
You won’t have to worry about being at the theater on time, parking won’t be an issue, and you’ll probably be more comfortable at home than seating in a theater seat with limited leg room. But how much of the live energy can this recorded performance actually capture?
“The task for me was to try to create a document of what it felt like to be in that room,” Kail said. “This is not trying to be the show. This is its own experience and I think we tried to embrace the love we have for being in the theater.”
For the final version of this movie, Kail explained, the team captured two live performances. The show never stopped during filming, with cameras positioned in the audience. Kail also had some time with the cast in the theater without viewers. The filmmaking crew could jump on stage for those shots and used steady cams, as well as cameras on cranes and dollies.
“This is better than the best seat in the house at Hamilton,” Miranda said. “Tommy very deliberately breaks the proscenium in places.”
The movie was shot 10 months after the cast sang for the Original Broadway Cast Recording and after countless performances on Broadway. Miranda joked about Hamilton being the best rehearsed movie of all time, “outside of maybe certain David Fincher scenes.”
Hamilton’s resonance today
But the Hamilton crew is aware this is more than just a play for some. They were eager to comment about anti-racism protests and demands for social justice taking place around the world following the death of a Black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis.
“I’m very excited to see how [the show] inspires this movement,” Onaodowan, who played Hercules Mulligan and James Madison said. “I’m excited for young kids who are out there, who are upset and angry. They can watch this and realize they can put their energies through writing, through challenging the people who are telling you things that you don’t like to hear like Hamilton did.”
Soo, who played Eliza Hamilton, underlined the relevance of having such a diverse cast, especially for younger audiences. She talked about young people of color, young Asian women and young women of other backgrounds thanking her for being part of an onstage group that looked like them. “It’s always good to remember that version of yourself when you were that person and what it felt to look up to these people that you form your first artistic experiences with,” she said.
As for the future of Hamilton, Ramos has an idea of what could be next: a proper movie musical adaptation. “We did In the Heights,” said the actor, who played John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. “Let me know, Lin, when we’re ready to do Hamilton.”
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