Arriving during America’s war of independence from the British, penniless Alexander Hamilton (as played by creator Lin-Manuel Miranda) is a man with a burning desire. In being promoted to General George Washington’s right-hand man over rival Aaron Burr, the path to both greatness and damnation are both laid out before him. But can he achieve his destiny before his time is up?
…an energetically progressive piece of musical theatre that suffers not the slings or borrows of its filmic medium.
Hamilton, the movie is a stage musical performance where American history is performed to a hip-hop beat. Gate-crashing musical theatre expectations which have largely been dominated by the pomposity of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s output, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is a subversive, blast of fresh air.
Riffing on the beats and rhymes of the House of Pain’s seminal hit (and thereby progressing through the styles of many other hip hop legends) Hamilton‘s cast jump around in a densely dramatised version of historical events. When the singing is silent, their dialogue takes the form of staccato soliloquies and any disputes deftly made to resemble rap battles as seen Eminem’s 8 Mile.
Puncturing all these syncopations, are the occasional interruptions of the King of England as played by Jonathan Groff. The very model of a modern major general, his stilted renditions entertainingly chafe against Hamilton‘s colony gone rogue. However, none of this can distract from self-confessed villain and (in part) narrator of the piece, Aaron Burr, as perfectly played by Leslie Odom Jr.
Young, scrappy and hungry, this is musical theatre as you have never seen it before and, save the several bursts of applause from the audience, it is a film that succeeds in dissolving the distance between the stage and the stalls. More interesting though is its approach to casting. Whilst historically speaking America’s founding fathers were all white, show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda took another route in casting al their parts with actors of colour; be they either black or biracial. The result is to remove any barrier of bias and deliberately communicate the show’s theme that America was built off the backs on immigrants of all colours. No wonder with so much progressiveness coming off the stage, this sent wasp-ish, apologist in-chief, vice president Mike Pence scuttling for his motorcade. But sadly that doesn’t happen in this film, but maybe we might cheekily see it appear as a DVD extra. -Who knows? – laughs.
As a reflection on the country that America would (and should still) become, Hamilton, is pluralist production rather than an accurate take on history. Like Miranda’s energetic portrayal of Hamilton himself, this is an energetically progressive piece of musical theatre that suffers not the slings or borrows of its filmic medium. Standing upright and shooting skywards, this is a chance to witness a cultural moment in the making.
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