Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Yep, Hamilton Still Rules
The Broadway musical sensation started playing for the general public in August 2015. However, it already feels like it's always been here. A once-forgotten founding father will not forever be associated with one of the most popular musicals of all-time. The various members of the original cast of Hamilton have all gone on to have thriving acting careers. Meanwhile, in my world of online writing, essays criticizing, praising, or doing mixed responses to Hamilton have managed to boost the careers of numerous writers. Hamilton is such a rich, how could it not spawn equally insightful pieces of writing?
Reviewing Hamilton, a filmed version of the Broadway show incorporating the original cast of the show, seems like a difficult process. Is there still anything more to add to the Hamilton discourse? I don't know, but I do know that Hamilton reaffirmed me what a gift this show is. For the two of you reading this who don't know, Hamilton concerns Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda). We follow his life from being an immigrant coming to America all the way up to his demise in a duel with former friend Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.). Along the way, Hamilton is constantly fighting to get a chance to prove himself. He writes, he schemes, he's so upfront that he becomes abrasive. Hamilton's time is limited on this Earth and he doesn't plan to waste a second.
The biggest new attribute for this particular incarnation of the Hamilton show is the advantages offered up by it being filmed. When you're watching Hamilton in a live environment, you're constantly viewing it from one perspective that (unless you're in the front seat) encompasses the entire stage. Having seen Hamilton in that format, that works just fine but that doesn't mean an alternative approach can't be created. Such an option arrives with the filmed version of Hamilton, which offers a greater level of visual variety is offered up in terms of how the action is framed. We get to see various events in Hamilton in close-ups, in birds-eye-view angles, in medium shots, the list goes on.
The greatest side-effect of this assortment of framing choices is how it allows certain small details of the show to be highlighted. Take the closing number The World Was Wide Enough. I've heard this song countless times, which means I was well aware of the verse where near-death Hamilton begins to list off people he can see "on the other side". "Laurens leads a soldiers chorus on the other side, my son is on the other side" was always such an affecting line to listen to. In the filmed version of Hamilton, though, it becomes even more poignant. Now, a close-up of Miranda's Hamilton looking upwards and seeing the silhouette of Anthony Ramos as both Laurens and Hamilton's son Phillip accompanies these touching lines.
There are all kinds of great new discoveries like that to be had in watching a version of Hamilton where you're practically on the stage with the whole cast. Soak in the finer details of the costumes. Marvel at the impressive individual performances in the chorus. Clap your hands in joy over how the blocking of musical numbers like Wait For It are so full of joy and creativity. Best of all, you can now be in awe of how actors like Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Okieriete Onaodowan imbue their respective performances with such tiny but powerful details. Goldsberry, for example, conveys so much about her character in small moves of her head and arms.
Such traits could get lost if you didn't get the up-close and personal vantage point Hamilton offers. On top of all the new visual details Hamilton unveils, though, some of its greatest pleasures come from that soundtrack. Most notably, this viewing of Hamilton cemented that the songs It's Quiet Uptown and Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story will always make me cry. I don't have any groundbreaking insight to lend to these tunes, they just manage to provoke my tear ducts whenever I hear them. Despite being buoyed by a tidal wave of buzz that would be seemingly impossible to meet, songs like those two prove why Hamilton work as effortlessly as it does. Make songs that stir your spirit, craft performances that are memorable and make characters that touch your heart. When you do that, you end up with a show like Hamilton that, unlike every other founding father, never gets old.