This film of the original Broadway play became available for television viewing Friday, just in time for the Fourth of July. It had been scheduled for theatrical release in October 2021, but nobody knew if movie theaters would re-open by then or if audiences would be willing even to go to theaters.
So the film opened on Disney+, the entertainment giant’s new streaming effort. No, you cannot watch it on one of those free trials that Hulu and other services offer. But look at it this way: A month or three of streaming is much, much cheaper than a ticket to the play ever was.
I saw the Hamilton in New York in late 2015 with the same cast and loved it.
But I was wary of this filmed version. I wondered whether it could convey the enthusiasm that Hamilton generated in Broadway audiences. In fact, it can’t. But what makes up for that is a three-camera production that shares all the full-stage scenes and also close shots of actors’ faces in key moments. And the actors in this are great.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican immigrant, read that book and made the material his own by writing this play, scoring it with hip-hop songs and nods to operatic recitative dialogue, and then casting African American, Hispanic and Asian actors in the key roles. The effect is so powerful that it is impossible to imagine Hamilton with a white cast.
Think of it as a huge 21st-century expansion of the idea of Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land Is Your Land.” Most Americans can trace their ancestry to immigrants or Native Americans who were treated badly or worse, but the message we have for each other now is this: This land belongs to you and me — to all of us.
It’s a generous theme, and I hope we will keep it in mind as a pandemic foments emotional frustration and rage, and, worse, anarchy by people aiming to burn down the whole foundation without offering a better alternative. This too shall pass.
Meanwhile, watch Hamilton. It’s just right for this moment.
If you are under the age of 30, you probably know the Hamilton score by heart. If not, this highlights video will bring you up to date.
Hamilton creator Miranda was one of those high school theater kids (musical theater in his case), and he has said that he knew from an early age that if he wanted to make a career of his passion, he needed to come up with new productions that told stories about people like him. His first play, In the Heights, set in the neighborhood where he was raised, was very popular in New York theaters and has been made into a film that is waiting to be released.