Hamilton, despite having premiered just five years ago, is already the sixth-highest grossing musical of all time. A filmed production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play about the life and times of America’s often overlooked Founding Father is now available on Disney +. For the first time ever, the Broadway production is available to the masses of people who can’t afford the trip to New York City and the especially exorbitant ticket price. The filmed version was shot in 2016 and was slated for a theatrical release in 2021, but with Broadway dark through at least the rest of this year due to the coronavirus, it was made available on Disney’s new streaming service on July 4th.
The pandemic is just one of the unique circumstances that coincides with this cinematic release. The George Floyd protests have sparked a debate about how we ought to reflect upon the founding of the country and the people involved in it. Many of the characters in this play are represented in statues and monuments whose symbolic meaning has come into question in recent weeks. The American experiment for which the play expresses such unapologetic reverence is in its most precarious state in generations. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits have recently expired, as has a nationwide eviction moratorium, making the American Dream that Hamilton so gleefully celebrates and mythologizes far out of reach for millions of Americans. And so, ironically, the conditions under which Hamilton was made available for mass consumption actually undermine much of the play’s message. In this current climate, Hamilton’s thematic material registers as little more than boilerplate, watered down, High School History textbook pablum.
Nonetheless, Hamilton is an undeniably great production. The music, the performances, the direction, the choreography, and the script itself are all first-rate. Also, despite being a smash hit Broadway production, the play is surprisingly unreliant on extravagant sets, visual effects, and other elements of spectacle that have come to be expected in Broadway musicals. Aside from the period wardrobe and the simple wood and brick set, Hamilton is a particularly “unspectacular” production that relies solely on the strength of Miranda’s script, Thomas Kail’s direction, and the ensemble cast’s performances to communicate its story to the audience. In this way, Hamilton is as pure a work of theater as there is: it can be performed at any venue for any budget, large or small. And this cast and crew performs it with particular prowess.
So is Hamilton neoliberal propaganda, brilliant theater, or both? We tackle this question and much more on this episode of our new podcast, Dissident Film Club. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the audio player below:
Photo: Joan Marcus, Public Theater