By now, a million people have probably told you how incredible Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation Hamilton is. The historical hip-hop and R&B concoction conquered the theater community, then expanded its reign all over the world, winning audiences with its intelligent approach to U.S. politics and the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers, particularly Alexander Hamilton.
Allow me to be number 1,000,001 to sing the show’s praises and beg you to see it.
Now, it’s much easier (and far cheaper) to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, thanks to the streaming service Disney+. A filmed version of the Broadway smash arrives on the platform on July 3, capturing the original cast during a 2016 performance in Manhattan’s intimate Richard Rodgers Theatre. Does the film work as well as the theatrical performance? Let’s dive in to a review of the movie version of Hamilton.
You’ve never had a better seat to Hamilton.
The original Broadway cast agreed to participate in this filmed version of Hamilton some time ago. With original stage director Thomas Kail behind the camera, the ensemble performed in front of two audience-packed houses, and then ran through the show two additional times so Kail could capture his close ups. As a result, you will see elements of Hamilton that previously weren’t possible unless you were a cast member, sharing the stage with the likes of Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Renee Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson or Anthony Ramos.
The Disney+ film gives Hamilton viewers the best seat in the house. You are immersed in high-octane numbers such as “My Shot” or “The Room Where It Happens.” The full brunt of “It’s Quiet Uptown” pours off of the screen because the camera can zoom in on the facial performances of Miranda and Phillipa Soo, something that wasn’t possible if you paid for rafter seats during the Broadway run. You are so close to the action, you see spit fly from the mouth of King George (Jonathan Groff) when he shouts, “Don’t change the subject!”
These moments, added up, almost replicate the sensation of a live Broadway show. Almost…
Disney+'s Hamilton is not live theater, and you notice.
The Hamilton movie will make you realize how much you miss live theater. Even with your sound system turned up, the movie can’t fully convey the raw energy and passionate spirit that no doubt leapt off of the stage during a live Hamilton performance. Crowd applause breaks only remind you that you’re not shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow ticket buyers seeking the communal release that comes with live theater. It’s a double-edged sword of delight and pain.
Additionally, the camera that’s necessary for a Hamilton movie limits what you can look at, another small element of live theater that can’t be replicated on a screen. Even in its widest shots, the version of Hamilton on Disney+ only allows you to see so much. Personally, when in a theater, I love to let my eyes wander, immersing myself in all of the action happening on the stage. Here, we’re controlled by director Thomas Kail’s eye. While he undeniably knows exactly where we should be looking during specific scenes and isolated moments, Hamilton emphasized the differences between the calculated approach of film and the unpredictable, organic joy of live theater.
It’s Hamilton, so it’s brilliant.
Enough with the minor quibbles. At the end of the day, this is Hamilton, as performed by the original Broadway cast, which means it’s brilliant. Here’s where I confess that this was my first time seeing this particular Broadway story from start to finish. Of course, I knew the Hamilton story, and have heard individual songs out of context. But tickets were scarce, money was budgeted elsewhere, and circumstances meant I wasn’t able to enjoy the show until Disney+ offered it.
I’d imagine I’m not alone. The fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius composition is now going to be available to countless more audience members who already subscribe to the streaming platform is reason enough to celebrate. Families who couldn’t afford a ticket can now see the best-possible version of Hamilton. Theatre geeks inspired by the masterpiece can spend hours breaking it down, then building it back up, hopefully igniting a spark that helps them become the next Lin-Manuel Miranda, writing the next Hamilton.
Because the show, against all odds, lives up to its hype. Breaking news, I know. But I’m cynical in nature, and in the back of my mind, I’d convinced myself that Hamilton couldn’t be nearly as good as the rest of the world was proclaiming. Tony Awards? Grammy Awards? Kennedy Center Honors? A Pulitzer?! Turns out, it’s worthy of all of that, and more. It’s a remarkable achievement, from an undeniably gifted creator and cast. It automatically justifies your Disney+ subscription, and gives that streaming service its most valuable commodity. And because good things still happen on this planet every once in a while, it’s now available to you in your living room, to watch over and over, whenever you want. Don’t throw away your shot.
Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.