MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
It was no great surprise to discover that thousands of people were taking time over the Independence Day staycation to watch Hamilton on Disney’s streaming service. After all, here was an incredibly popular musical that was still selling out theaters at high ticket prices wherever it played. Great care was taken to have only the very best talent involved with high production values. Although this filmed version was finished in 2017, it was not slated for theatrical release until October 2021. But then, you know, the pandemic.
I include myself among the minority who has read Alexander Hamilton, the 800-page biography by Ron Chernow (that was the source material for the show), but had never listened to the original cast album. I did know many people (included a good number of United Methodist pastors) who could sing along to the entire score (as I used to do decades ago with those lightweight musicals Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar).
In other words – this is a beloved show and I dare not speak ill of it. Fortunately, Hamilton is a great show and this is an amazing filmed version. Director Thomas Kail working with cinematographer Declan Quinn and a large production crew filmed two actual performances on one June weekend (using a large number of cameras and planning each and every shot prior to the recording). They then had the cast come back to film about half of the show using Steadicams and closer cameras (with no audience) and then edited everything together. It’s an electrifying experience and demonstrates new ways to preserve musical theater. We will see its influence for years to come.
As to the story itself, Miranda (who wrote the music and lyrics and plays Hamilton) has often shared his excitement upon reading the Chernow biography to discover that Hamilton was born in the East Indies and immigrated to North America as a “bastard, immigrant, son of a whore” – on a scholarship from funds raised by his community to receive an education at Princeton (although Hamilton ended up at King’s College). In time, he became allied with anti-British revolutionaries and served as aide-de-camp to General George Washington (and writing much of his impassioned letters). Hamilton was a high achiever and his career path would include creating the Federal Banking system (and also serving as the first secretary of the Treasury), writing the majority of the Federalist Papers, and developing conflicted relationships with Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs) and Aaron Burr (Odom Jr.). Hamilton would also develop romantic attractions to the three Schuyler sisters, eventually marrying Eliza while harboring feelings for Angelica – and finding himself caught in a public scandal with another woman. And there’s more!
To create such a rich canvas of history while using hip-hop, jazz, and musical theater tunes is one thing. To bring to life a play that is patriotic and hope-filled at a time such as this is a miracle. The show has already created memorable catchphrases as “Immigrants get the job done” and “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
Hamilton reminds us of the cost of freedom that was a part of the birth of our nation, and the inclusive cast of Black, Latino and White actors celebrates the diversity that has always been a part of the United States and our best shot at reclaiming the potential of democracy. Take the time to watch it soon.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A filmed performance of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical featuring the original cast at as affordable price in a repeatable format; it’s also good history and great music.
One pitchfork: For occasional strong language; discreet references to adultery and other sexual activity.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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