(2020) (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr.) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Musical: A look at the life and times of Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries.
It's 1776 and 19-year-old immigrant Alexander Hamilton (LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA) arrives in New York, with his rhetorical reputation preceding him. He meets other hopeful revolutionaries against the British rule of King George (JONATHAN GROFF) including Aaron Burr (LESLIE ODEOM JR.) with whom he develops a competitive relationship. That's heightened when General George Washington (CHRISTOPHER JACKSON) chooses him as his right-hand man, although Alexander longs for a military regiment of his own. What he does get is a relationship with Eliza Schuyler (PHILLIPA SOO) after her sister, Angelica (RENEE ELISE GOLDSBERRY), introduces them.
After the revolution, Alexander's adversarial relationship with Aaron continues as the new country begins to take shape, with Thomas Jefferson (DAVEED DIGGS) returning from France and becoming Secretary of State, while Alexander has the job of Secretary of the Treasury handed to him by newly-elected President Washington. Even later, and with his son, Philip (SYDNEY JAMES HARCOURT), following in his footsteps, Alexander continues to serve his country all while facing political opponents and personal controversy.
- OUR TAKE: 9 out of 10
Granted, there are reasons for the following, and maybe things have changed since I was a student, but the fact that I remember only fragments of what we were taught in school yet can sing along to a song whose lyrics I haven't heard in decades shows the failings of our educational system.
It certainly showcases that with a more innovative and imaginative approach -- such as game-ifying the material or at least putting it into musical verse -- kids (and, later, adults) might recall material better than they did or currently do.
And there's no better example of making history exciting, fun, and memorable than the Broadway musical "Hamilton." Conceived, written, and scored by Lin-Manuel Miranda in the mid-2010s, the show -- that also starred the multihyphenate -- took American history, added a hip-hop vibe to it and had performers of color playing the roles of the famous Founding Fathers of America.
The results were universally acclaimed and beloved, with the show debuting in 2015 off-Broadway before moving to the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway where it went on to play to sold-out audiences, winning 11 Tony Awards (out of 16 nominations) along with the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The story, for those not familiar, revolves around Alexander Hamilton (Miranda), an immigrant who ends up assisting George Washington (Christopher Jackson) in forging the country's independence from England and King George (a scene-stealing Jonathan Groff who gets some of the production's catchiest songs). Along the way, and as the years pass, he must contend with political adversaries -- Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs), both absolutely terrific -- while also marrying Eliza (Phillipa Soo).
Like "Les Miserables" before it, pretty much all of the "dialogue" is delivered via various styles of singing (some standard Broadway-style such as "Aaron Burr, Sir" that sounds straight out of "Rent," others with more of a rap and hip-hop style) and the songs are nothing short of great, from the title tune to "My Shot," "Helpless," "What'd I Miss" and more.
I never got the chance to see the show with its original cast in New York, but I've now seen the imaginatively filmed version of it that debuts on Disney+, and all I can say is "wow." Highly entertaining, creative in its approach, featuring great songs and terrific performances from the cast, the result is a joy to behold. And it's likely something you'll remember long after your stuffy history lessons from school have faded from your memory.
Beyond the show itself -- which is great on every level -- director Thomas Kail (who helmed the TV special "Grease: Live") similarly avoids the stuffy, one or two locked down camera approach of past filmed theatrical productions. With plenty of close-ups, varying camera angles and more, Kail brings a new layer and level of intimacy to the proceedings, so much so that even diehard fans of the stage production will find new things to enjoy and will likely end up loving the show even more than they previously did.
I loved every moment of it -- it's the best thing I've seen all year. "Hamilton" rates as a 9 out of 10.
Reviewed June 29, 2020 / Posted July 3, 2020
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