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By now, theater lovers around the world — American or otherwise — have gotten their shot to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's acclaimed Broadway hit, Hamilton. Through Disney+, the musical's original Broadway cast has been seen on television screens worldwide, allowing everyone to witness what made the production such a phenomenon — the likes of which have rarely (if ever) been seen before.
Taped over three nights in 2016, a lot has changed between this recording and its streaming debut. Reflecting on the show, its legacy, and the cultural conversation surrounding Miranda's musical in 2020, Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes On You, the new Disney+ special hosted by Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, gives the cast, director Thomas Kail, and Harvard historian Annette Gordon-Reed a chance to discuss Hamilton and what it means in today's political climate.
It's an interesting discussion with keen insights gleaned. Here are a few noteworthy things we learned.
The Hamilton Cast Visited The Gravestones Of Alexander And Eliza Hamilton, And They Discovered That Eliza's Grave Was Much Smaller
The method through which a performer embodies a character, especially a person who once lived and breathed, is different for each person. It's clear that a lot of research, time, and education went into making this show, but when it comes to Phillipa Soo, it was one moment in particular that helped the actress play the part: visiting the graves of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton. As she notes, the gravestones of this founding father and the woman by his side were notably different in size and structure, and Soo felt that was telling for who they were and how the Hamiltons lived their respective lives.
It really struck home when we went to go visit Trinity Church and we saw Alexander Hamilton's grave, which was very ornate and large and sturdy and strong and quite breathtaking, and [Eliza Hamilton's] gravestone was right next to it, and it was just a simple stone that says 'Eliza.' And I thought that just said so much about who she was as a person. And I felt, in that moment, such a responsibility to honor her because she spent so much of her time honoring her husband. So, that's the gift of being an artist. You get to connect with people from history, especially when you play someone that really existed.
Daveed Diggs Said Starring In Hamilton Was 'The Most American' He Has Felt In His Life
As it's explored in this Disney+ special, Hamilton is a meaningful show for how it incorporates a cast primarily composed of people of color to tell the story of our country's founding. It provides a hopeful, inspiring new examination through the lens of the founding fathers' original values and how we can incorporate them into new time periods and eras, particularly with a diverse cast of talented people. The film version of Hamilton is interesting in that it's of two different eras — it was filmed in 2016, at the tail-end of the Obama presidency, and it arrives in the midst of another presidential reign. Reflecting back on his time with the show, Daveed Diggs claims that being in this acclaimed Broadway show is "the most American" he has ever felt in his life.
All art is in conversation with the times in which we're viewing it. Certainly my attachment to Hamilton during the Obama era was a pretty hopeful one. The fact that we were all here playing the founding fathers and mothers of this country implies a sort of ownership over our country's history that I had never felt before, personally. So, doing that show is the most American I have ever felt in my life. And that makes perfect sense in an era where there is a man who looks like me who is president for the first time in my life, you know? It was very hopeful.
Lin-Manuel Miranda Explains Why Hamilton's Final Scene Is So Quiet
Lin-Manuel Miranda certainly took his time making Hamilton a reality. He reportedly spent two years writing and composing the first two songs in the musicals, and he waited until the last minute to write Alexander Hamilton's final moments, which he credits as the hardest song to write in the piece. As noted in this special, Hamilton was mere days away from the first performance and the actor-writer-composer still hadn't finalized this key part of the musical. The problem was simple-yet-tough: how do you sum up a person's final moments, especially a man as monumental as Hamilton? After spending so much time trying to find the words for this scene, he realized what this moment really needed: silence. Here's how Miranda explained it.
It probably underwent the most revision because I don't know what that's like, and it takes a real imaginative leap... I woke up New Year's Day, 2015. My son, who was a month-and-a-half old, was asleep on my chest. My dog was asleep between my legs. My wife was asleep next to me. And it was quiet. And I realized, 'Oh, quiet. I haven't used quiet for the whole two hours and 30 minutes of this show. That's the one move left.' ... That was hard to write, but I'm glad it's done [laughs].
Renee Elise Goldsberry's Son Saw Hamilton Cast As Aunts And Uncles
When you do something like a hit Broadway play, you're bound to become either very close or very distant with your fellow crew members before the final curtain call. Thankfully, the former was the case for Hamilton. Oftentimes, a close-knit group of actors will be like family to one another. That was the case for Hamilton, particularly for Renee Elise Goldberry's son, who saw the whole Hamilton cast as family as the production went on Broadway.
Leslie Odom Jr. Believes Someone Will Write Another Play Someday That Makes Hamilton Look 'Quaint' In Comparison
When it comes to looking back on Hamilton's legacy, we're already at a curious point. Hamilton is, at once, new and dated, a product of its time and a product of today. In some respects, the conversation around Hamilton has evolved. In different respects, there's still a lot of fresh life inside this show. Leslie Odom Jr. knows that this show is a product of its time, but he knows it's a powerful piece of work that'll hopefully influence future generations to make their Tony-winning musical seem "cute" and "quaint" in comparison. But he says there's "protest" inside Lin-Manuel Miranda's acclaimed hit.
Lin[-Manuel Miranda] wrote the story that was on his heart to write. I signed on to be part of a show that I believed in. That was our leg of the race. Now it's your turn. There is no doubt in my mind that some young kid is gonna look at Hamilton and write the show that makes what we did look quaint. That might be happening at this very very moment. There's gonna be a show that comes along that makes this look cute at some point, you know? But it was meaningful, and there was protest in it in its time. The fact that it's been so successful and so ubiquitous, things are taken for granted about this show.
Daveed Diggs Had An Altercation With A Police Officer A Week Before Hamilton
As Daveed Diggs also notes in this special, the cast felt they were on a "trajectory" when it came to making the reality seen in Hamilton come to life. The actor claims that the audience who watched. enjoyed and felt patriotic pride while watching Hamilton have a responsibility to make the world more reflective of what is seen on the stage in that show since that version of America still doesn't exist yet. Alas, Diggs admits that the feeling "has been derailed" because he hasn't seen any concrete change in his life. It was around this point that he revealed that a week before he performed the show, he had an altercation with a police officer. Here's what he said.
Oscar Grant was murdered two blocks away from my house in 2009. The exact same murder. The value of black life is put in front of us every day. But we go and watch Hamilton and we are so full and people value our lives so much. People seem to value my life a whole lot as it relates to Hamilton. But a week before I got to perform Hamilton, I got thrown up against a fence by a police officer, for no reason. So, what I think the action of Hamilton has always implied, particularly by watching the young people in the show spark the revolution and create a country, is that now is a good time to examine the show as an example of how to hold your country accountable.
Leslie Odom Jr. Says We Look At History Through A Small Iris
Later on in the special, when the cast is asked what white people seeking to become better allies learn — or unlearn — about America's history, Leslie Odom Jr. provided one key bit of insight: open up the iris. History is richer and deeper than what we're often told, and we need to learn how to explore the expansiveness of our country's past, as well as the horrors and tragedies that came along with it. Here's what Odom said.
What we must realize, once and for all, is that we look at history through such a small iris. You know, like, Hamilton, really what it's posing the question because it's being told by different people and using a different language. It's still about the same people. But, you know, it's like when we're looking around at all these statues, and it's like, 'Wait, so really, it's just — it was all white dudes, huh?' Like, you open that iris up, it's like — yeah, where were women, actually? Were they just in the kitchens throwing parties? Where were the black people? ... Open that iris up, and there's so many stories. There's a rich history here and tragic history here. There's great triumph and great horror that we must learn about. But you gotta open that iris up. So, a white ally, open that iris.
Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes On You is now available exclusively on Disney+.