For people who are experiencing Hamilton for the first time, Hamilton is a recording of a 2016 Broadway performance of the popular musical of the same name. Hamilton itself is a string of musical numbers written by Lin Manuel Miranda; There is little spoken dialogue in the play. The story follows our overlooked founding father, US Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant who rose up to build the ideals of America we fight for today while dealing with the consequences of his ambitious and outspoken nature. Lin Manuel’s songs are full of clever wordplay, callbacks, and contemplations of death, legacy, and the American Dream. While watching, it’s very easy to see present-day parallels to the events of the beginnings of political history in America. From Obama’s role in the remix of George Washington’s One Last Time to the explosions of applause for the line “Immigrants – we get the job done”, people across the country are genuinely connecting to these distant events that still feel so relevant. Furthermore, Lin Manuel does an excellent job developing the motives and reactions of the characters surrounding Hamilton. The Schuyler Sisters, King George, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington all have the chance to share how they see the world in beautifully constructed lyrics that make this part of history seem more real. There’s love, heartbreak, tragedy, betrayal, and little visual jokes and mannerisms that remind you these characters are human and implore you to love them even more. If this is your first taste of Broadway, then Hamilton is an excellent modern piece to begin with.
For people who already love Hamilton, if the peak of the Hamiltonian experience is seeing the show live and the baseline is listening to the entire album, then seeing a recording of the play is an above-average experience at the least. Furthermore, it feels even less like some boot-legged second-hand experience because Broadway is temporarily dead, and our blessed Lin Manuel is giving us this beautiful high-quality look into the theater-going experience that none of us can have right now. Having just finished watching it, I’m already wanting to see it again. There are little things I just assumed after repeatedly replaying the album that I discovered to be wrong after seeing the art in its intended format. There are quick visual jokes and mannerisms and acknowledgments of the audience that make you feel more connected to the experience. It’s hilarious and touching seeing characters slip into and out of scenes they don’t have lines for. I feel the heartbreak and joy of the plot points more deeply when I am forced to see it in linear time and pick up on facial expressions, mood, lighting, and the forms of the backup dancers. Seeing all the other components of Lin Manuel’s Mangum Opus is incredible. Every character is better than I imagined, especially King George and Thomas Jefferson. The fact that Phillip, Hamilton’s son, and Laurens, Hamilton’s revolutionary colleague, are both played by the same actor is visually disorienting for those who believe that Hamilton and Laurens had feelings for each other. One critique I have is the lack of props in certain songs, but I understand that this is difficult in the medium of a play, and the talent of the actors and actresses still shine in this minimalistic approach.
Though the musical itself is a sensation, seeing the musical live on screen complete with visuals, choreography, lighting, and sets really brings it to a whole new level. Hamilton’s sparked some much needed discussion as of late in reference to its selective depiction of our founding fathers, but it’s also popularized and reclaimed history in a way that hasn’t ever been done before. Whatever your thoughts are on that front, the irresistible lyrics and beats of the song will at least give you something to tap your foot to.