It’s the award-winning Broadway Musical that everyone has been talking about and it’s been released on Disney +. This means we can finally see what all the fuss is about! The story follows the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton from poor, orphaned immigrant to a central figure in the founding of the United States. All set to toe-tapping songs.
I was a little bit thrown when I began watching Hamilton. My experience of musicals has generally plays with songs strategically placed in them. These songs are the draw as well as the heart and soul of the performance, but there is traditional dialogue. Hamilton is my first experience of a musical that is (save for one or two scattered lines) almost entirely singing. Dialogue between the characters is done via rapping and R&B between the more traditional songs of the performance. It was my first real taste of the passion and commitment on the part of the cast and crew because each performance must be murder on their throats even by the standards of a musical. This results in a production with very little wasted space. A lot of people go to see musicals for the music and are liable to zone out during some of the longer sections of traditional dialogue. In my, non-expert, opinion this is probably part of the reason for the show’s explosive popularity; there are very few lulls in the performance, creating a story that flows really well. The main songs of the show are catchy and, just as importantly, help tell a story the way a musical’s songs should.
Speaking of the story, it is worth noting that, like all historical narratives, some historical accuracy has been sacrificed for the sake of a streamlined story. Hamilton and his ever-present rival Burr are depicted as having met earlier and having had a much more contentious relationship (they were actually on fairly good terms for most of the time they knew each other). Hamilton is depicted as being staunchly anti-slavery (in real life he proved he could put his abolitionist views to one side when it was personally convenient for him to do so). Also, many of the political events covered are simplified in order for the audience to grasp what is going on without needing to pause the show for a history lecture. And all of that is perfectly fine; creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda is clearly very knowledgeable about the people and events covered and makes no secret about the depiction of the various historical figures being tweaked for the sake of the story. You don’t go to a musical for a proper history lesson and I’m always in favour of theatre based on historical events as it encourages people to read up on it later. For example, all the historical facts I pretentiously spouted off above were facts I found out when I read up on Hamilton after having watched the musical.
The cast featured are the original cast members in a recording that was originally meant to be shown in theatres before real-life prompted Disney to shift gears and release it on their streaming platform. This means we get to see the ‘original’ Hamilton with all the spark and passion that entails.
Hamilton is passionate, well put together performance brought to life by an amazing cast. Strangely, while I really enjoyed it, I wasn’t blown away like I was expecting to be, given how much praise it’s received from pretty much every corner. Of course, given all of the hype I heard before finally getting a chance to see it, I may well have come into this with slightly unfair expectations. In any case, Hamilton has earned its place among the musical greats.