Lin-Manuel Miranda's joyous, soul-searing 'Hamilton' a big plus for Disney+
Some day we will surely get a legitimately cinematic movie version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's joyously soul-searing Broadway musical "Hamilton," all rapped up in red, white, black, brown and blue.
Until then, Thomas Kail's bold and dynamic motion picture/stage show hybrid premiering on Disney+ should tide us over just fine.
Traditional filmed versions of theatrical stage shows have always been a trade-off for audiences, denied the energized spontaneity of live performances on one hand, denied the immersive intimacy of cinematic closeness on the other.
Kail's killer compromise comes crashing through the proscenium arch to create a close approximation of a classic motion picture. Close.
Kail directed this "Hamilton" (slightly sanitized for a Disney release) at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre with the original Broadway cast in 2016.
For everyone too far away from theaters, or unwilling to pay exorbitant admission prices (a Chicago ticket cost me $200, and could have been resold for $900), Disney's "Hamilton" captures the energy of the stage version, cinematically infused with Jonah Moran's ruthless editing, averaging five to seven seconds a shot, with two to three seconds for action scenes and languorous takes of 20 seconds or more for soliloquies.
Cinematographer Declan Quinn used six cameras to create fluid crane and tracking shots all over the stage, breaking at least the fourth, fifth and sixth walls while employing Busby Berkeley-esque ceiling views and astonishingly intimate, Hollywood-grade close-ups, particularly those of Jonathan Groff's hilariously scene-stealing King George.
The show's two stellar characters remain the titular patriot and first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (played by original star Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the book, music and lyrics) and Thomas Jefferson (original star Daveed Diggs, also doubling as the Marquis de Lafayette).
Watching these two charismatically breathless performances alone would easily be worth the Disney+ monthly fee.
But the show's other performers provide just as many fireworks: Christopher Jackson as a commandingly cool George Washington, Libertyville native Phillipa Soo as Hamilton's steel-willed pragmatic wife Eliza, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, the ultimate politician who talks less, smiles more and doesn't throw away his fatal shot.
Miranda created "Hamilton" as a genre-busting Obama-era musical, all hip-hopped-up on hypnotic rhyming repetitions and colorblind casting that injected new relevance and excitement to the story of a boy born into poverty and shame, who possessed the drive and intelligence to become an influential revolutionary figure, eventually with Washington on his side.
Some historians have taken a dim view of this lightly refashioned look at Hamilton as a champion of the people, when in reality he was involved in slave transactions. (A Harvard history professor noted, "He was elitist. He was in favor of having a president for life.")
Nonetheless, "Hamilton" succeeds as a musical incentive for fans to seek out what truth about their Founding Fathers they can find, given the whitewashed U.S. history taught to generations of public school students.
Our American sawbuck continues to pay tribute to a man who wielded more influence over the creation of the United States than most of his peers.
Yet, his final reward would be an ignoble, premature demise brought about by an institutionalized honor killing, a sad ending perfectly capped by Soo's piercing expression of collective grief in one of the most powerful final shots you will ever witness.
★ ★ ★ ½
Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Leslie Odom Jr.
Directed by: Thomas Kail
Other: A Disney+ release. Rated PG-13 for language, suggestive material. 160 minutes