The world of the playwright is a fascinating one, where the dark aspects of the classical theater are still able to take stage without so much as batting an eye. It’s created stories that have been unique, often making staple works of art that not only show for months to years, but often remain in the memories of many. So given the state of COVID, as well as the limited runs with original cast and locations you can view it, I’ll admit I’ve not been much into this venue. Disney + is trying to fix this by putting out the legendary Hamilton this weekend to let me check out. So I have, and thus I’m getting another practice review out to determine if this craze is worth the hype, or just another entry into the continued world of entertainment. Let’s get started
Movie/Play: Hamilton (originally 2016 but 2020 release)
Makes History Entertaining
Some Extraordinarily Good Numbers
A dynamic Stage for numbers
The First Act Over The Second
The ending Monologue Powerful
Underutilized characters for me
Constant Singing vs. Breaks with Dialog
Sound quality for Disney Plus not as Good
I Felt Could use More Stage Changes
Dropped Story Elements
The Ending number
If You know History, You know The end
Does it Capture the Spirit Of The Theater?
As I said above, the theater world allows so many stories to be told and in Hamilton, the lesser known founding father gets a nice entertaining twist and is certainly the fun experience you would think. Miranda’s play has poise, charm, edge, and so many other factors that make the history of the revolution fun to watch/live in once again. Much of it has to do with clever writing, jabbing at the faults of the traditional life of history, but managing to not rub its name in the mud. The asides and breaking the fourth wall made me laugh the most, especially at how well most of it flows into the lyrics of the strong music that is heavy in this film. Miranda shows how you can be political without getting too far away from the point, writing power messages into the dialogue naturally and having the performance speak as opposed to making everything about the message (see modern Hollywood/life today). Hamilton takes all this cleverness and works it into its own style of poetry using the music style to emphasize so much I think he wanted and keeping the story moving through the decade or so of major historical moments and trying to develop the title character considerably. And all of this power is brought about talented production values that help pull you back in time to the founding of our country. A talented cast with names too extensive to include, brings up the various historical legends to new heights, attitudes and the spirit of revolution oozing out of their deliveries in the first act to inspire your own movement for change. While a second act opens up more of the devious side in a spoof/magnification of the temptation political power brings. All the costumes that reflect historical Colonial upbringing are there ready to help your eyes further accept the spectacle on stage so that you again put interest into the film.
Let’s face it though it’s going to be the numbers that will show up on the walls of social media soon enough. Hamilton’s numbers are all about that attitude and inspiration that the modern times love, and it’s those empowering performances that make up the meat of this play. The emotional fervor of both acts is in almost every word of the dialogue and it does not hesitate to show the attitude that the cast wanted to bring in this time period. Using the stage’s confinement to the advantage, alongside the costumes, the dance numbers have a choreographed splendor that feels organic as movements turn back into characters just going back to normal movements. It works so well in seeing the fluid transitions from duels to dance and back again, and seeing a unique approach to the performance execution. The first act in particular does this well for me, and was the better act because of the energy, fervor, and coordination the revolutionary war got in the confined 1-hour time limit. Though the second act does accomplish a similar feel and certainly has less dancing, more coordination and the likes, I particularly think the first act is Miranda’s shining achievement. However, that ending monologue is powerful, with words that struck home and broke the mold of the rest of the play’s fervor, a nice sendoff that leave one thinking.
Now here is the tricky part of talking about the dislikes, partly because I don’t see many plays, part because of the hybrid movie/play, and partly due to the limitations of stage shows being streamed. Doing my best to be fair though, I can say that one of the big disappointments were some of the underutilized characters for me. Hamilton does a nice job working so many pieces through the set up, but there are several characters that held potential and showed promise that got dropped into the winds of a few songs before being lost to book footnotes. I had hoped for a little more integration and references, but understanding time constraints it’s only a marginal dislike for me. What hit harder for me was more so dropping some of the plots they were working on, or perhaps rushing through them and keeping them merely one to two lines in the story. The development of Hamilton’s child, the third sister, heck even some of the soldiers are all lost in quick tidbits through this rush through history. While it works in the rhyme scheme, I’m about stating if you are going to build up deliver on the end and I felt some of this was lost to the political prowess of the play. I guess if you know history well enough, you know the ending, and Miranda might have taken that into consideration when he wrote the book, focusing again on a Spark Notes version of Hamilton’s life and accomplishments. This is why Hamilton has the focus, so you can try to get into his mind, while also driving the audience to do the changes that our forefathers did long ago before technology took over.
In regards to execution of the numbers well you’ve read I enjoyed much of the numbers. However, something this play failed to do for me was take breaks from the music and go back into dialogue to sort of give the actors time to flesh out the characters more. While good, I got tired of everything in a musical/poetry lyric, again missing key moments of tension and character building so that we can get more emotional music instead. Again, I’m unsure how other musicals work, something I have to study, but the plays I have seen have far more breaks between their performances instead of nearly just one giant musical delivery. Throw that in with if you are watching it on Disney+, the sound quality is kind of lacking thanks to the compressed file format the server uses. I found myself having to turn my speakers up more for the quiet phrases than I wanted to, only for having to turn it down again when the more energetic numbers came. Convenient as it is, I have to say that other streaming sites have got it down a little better in terms of sound balance, so I’ll mention in hopes that Disney will improve upon their sound quality. Something else I as well would have liked, as I see in many musical numbers, is a more diverse soundtrack. Wicked, Avenue Q, Book Of Mormons are great examples where a genre can be seen in the musical styles, but there are slight changes and performance tweaks to make the numbers stand out. Not the case for on Hamilton. Outside of when Eliza’s numbers came on, and a few moments where Hamilton’s darker thoughts hit the scene, much of the numbers is the same sort of rap beat with a slight change in tempo to boot. Again, I get this was the focus of the play to have a rap play presentation, but doing it that way takes away from the originality of each track. Fortunately, King George’s interventions stood out to me as comedic, a change in style to the show tune that stands aside from the rap. If your style of music choice is the rap, then this will not be an issue, because it’s the perfect genre to get the emotions out and thanks to its ability to take poetry and spin it in new pieces. For me though, many of the numbers feel every much the same, and without bigger dance numbers or the usual grandiose manner I’ve seen in the few shows I’ve watched. In addition not changing up the backdrops, and relying on the one stage prop alone was again a dynamic I did not intend to watch. Lighting guys get the props for making the stage versatile, but again, Hamilton’s journey through colonial times should have had more settings, but the reliance on a tiered stage means you use your imagination more than I had hoped. Finally, the ending number may have an amazing message to convey and does so well for mopping up the remains of the story, but it pales in comparison to the final numbers you usually see. Blasphemy I know, but after all the poetic majesty, after all the dynamic interactions, the last number I felt should have had pulled all the stops out to finish it strong.
I’ve rambled long enough so let’s wrap this up for those looking for a quick summary. Hamilton is certainly an impressive display of creativity, wit, and entertainment that proves that you can find some great balance if you do your research and work. All the numbers hold such heart and fire, that the rap genre is perfect for helping maximize the wonderful messages I think Hamilton’s life makes for. Amazing displays of acting, dancing, and singing blend beautifully to make engaging characters, that though are not fully developed have the engaging qualities you will certainly enjoy. The wit and use of the limited stage fully is enjoyable, and rest of the play magic is super to bring out the masterpiece that Hamilton is known to be. However, despite the epic, politically charged, poetry it is, I won’t lie that I wanted more variety for the masterpiece it was. Some breaks from the music, a little change in the tone, some focus and inclusion of other characters, and set changes could have gone a long way. It’s not perfect, but Disney+ has helped bridge the gap in play at home experience, but I don’t think it captures the full spectacle of the theater that streaming claims it can. Still, I’d give it a shot if you like plays, more important like political jabbing rap, where the talent shines. However, if you need a little more magic, a little more entertainment, and some less dense material, you need to hold out on this and pick another play to enjoy given the nearly 3 hour run time. Overall, my scores are still going to be from a movie aspect, so here we go.
Movie Overall: 7.0