While it's disorientating to have hip-hop beats surrounding the infamous Disney castle, the oncoming audience cheers alleviates any stress.
As is usually the case with a one-off filmed performance, the night that is filmed is never the best. Either something goes slightly wrong or somebody misses a word, or the audience doesn’t react as well. With the version of Hamilton that has been shared across the globe on Disney+, I cast high doubt that this is the best it was ever performed, but what has been produced is something that certainly achieves what it set out to.
As someone who has seen Hamilton live, it is stunning to see a recreation of the stage right before my eyes. As pricey as the theatre production is, it is an excellent economic choice by its creator to make it accessible to so many more people, and with a stellar view. This is perhaps why film recordings of Broadway shows are in such high demand. Mostly because this is not the same show that I saw when I was sat at the back of the stalls with a pillar and a tall man blocking my view.
In keeping with a theatre-style performance, our online Hamilton has kept the welcoming words of our fellow Brit, King George III, whose opening of it being his show erupts much laughter from an American crowd. It is obviously a different experience watching the character in an American theatre compared to Britain, as the campy caricature is the only one that is blatantly laughed at despite most of the characters being white men who disagree with each other.
Fans of the original Broadway soundtrack will recognise the voices of those on stage and, despite offerings in London and other casts, there is something homely and warming about hearing Leslie Odom Jnr begin the musical phenomenon with his dulcet tones. The same can be said for the rest of the reveals throughout the opening number, though perhaps less so for the writer. While Lin-Manuel Miranda’s voice is distinct and many fans associate it with the titular character, it has been noticed that the musical may appear as a slight vanity project. However, Miranda adds small touches to the character that many followers miss out on, and it is synonymous with the hip-hop track to have Miranda’s vocals follow suit.
One of the most appealing features of its filmed release is that you can really see the actors enjoyment of the music and the fun of it all. While this is a somewhat serious play which took a specific stance on both past and current affairs, the actors onstage have a good time. Throughout the opening number, the actors on stage are either clicking along with the beat, or in Daveed Diggs’ case, body popping. This makes a huge difference compared to what a person is likely to see at the theatre, which is little blobs having a bit of a boogie. There are many nuanced parts of choreography that I had missed when I was sat in my back-row seat including the crucial storyline moments, such as the conductor receiving his own copy of The Reynolds Pamphlet. While an audience would laugh in the theatre because you know something funny is happening, this version allows you a close-up image of exactly what eye a person winks with. It’s a very lucky and immersive experience that more people are able to enter into.
It is very clear that some of the actors involved with this production were the perfect choice for the cast. One of my particular favourites is Diggs, with his high-energy Lafayette explosion in Guns and Ships that looked effortless on his part. The recorded audience began their cheers for this famed part but seemed to be shushed with awe by the ease of Diggs’ performance. He commanded the stage instantly as Jefferson and brought the same energy despite being dressed in a velvet three-piece. Upon his first appearance, Christopher Jackson was also met by a huge cheer which is well understood following his stunning vocals throughout as Washington. While making people laugh is a challenge on its own, allowing people to feel vulnerable and outwardly cry, is another impossible task. However, Phillipa Soo brings this out of an audience during the emotional lulls in the performance. She is a very capable vocalist but was able to influence her performance without holding back any emotion, most notably when a single tear falls onto her dying son.
However, my personal favourite is Leslie Odom Jnr as Aaron Burr, a surprising and jealous narrator. Throughout the entire performance, Odom Jnr is able to flash a sense of alluring arrogance that makes me want to side with him, despite the lifetime of arguments. It takes a very charismatic actor to be able to muddy the moral waters as much as Odom Jnr does, enabling the villain born from envy to become more relatable. His performance in The Room Where It Happens is phenomenal, and receives perhaps the most enthusiastic cheer from the audience.
One of the biggest benefits to having this recorded version, with its alternating camera positions and increased zoom, is that all of the work behind the production cannot go amiss. Whether this is the costuming that allows you to immediately see the deathly rivalling through colour contrasts, or the sweat and spit that the actors expel, it is clear that there is a lot of passion involved. This musical in particular is very demanding of its performers, with high energy movements, fast rapping and big belting notes, but also due to the political weight that came with its earlier performances. However, with the rotating stage and the switching of camera angles, it is quite a disorientating watch.
While Hamilton is currently undergoing its own controversies based on the emancipation and glorification of people with questionable moral compasses, it cannot be denied that the addition of the musical to Disney+ has made a positive difference. If not for allowing a well-liked musical to be available to the masses, but at least for the revelation that a filmed version of musicals is a good thing and hopefully this will encourage other producers to follow suit.
Hamilton, featuring the original Broadway cast from 2015, is available to stream via Disney+.