It’s July 3rd, 2020. My Facebook newsfeed is flooded with people who are excited to watch Hamilton on Disney+. It is also flooded with people who are not remotely interested, but want to make sure everyone else knows that they are not interested. Remember how people were with Game of Thrones? The people who didn’t watch it absolutely had to say so, as if their lack of interest made them superior in some way. Sound silly? Yes, it is.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock on another planet for the past five years, you know about Hamilton. It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda’s juggernaut musical about the Founding Fathers—specifically former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. It’s a hip-hop musical, telling the story largely through rap, and it’s got the most racially diverse cast you ever saw. It swept the 2016 Tony Awards, winning 11 out of 16 nominations, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book. Miranda himself has won pretty much every award in existence with the exception of the Oscar, and to quote Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—it’s only a matter of time.
All Broadway shows are filmed, if only for archival purposes. They live in the Lincoln Center Library in Manhattan but aren’t typically released to the public. Miranda decided to take it a step further with Hamilton. He had it filmed with the original cast (himself, Leslie Odom Jr., Christopher Jackson, Phillipa Soo, Daveed Diggs, Renee Elise Goldsberry) and then locked it away (“in the Gringott’s vault”, he said) for nationwide theatrical release. It’s a mitzvah of the best kind, in my opinion. Not only will it bring the show to people even the tour didn’t reach, but I’m guessing the cost of a ticket to see it in the cinema would have been a fraction of what theatre tickets cost these days. The hope is that this will set a precedent, that maybe some of those other shows will become available for public release.
When the world shut down due to COVID, plans were changed, and the decision was made to stream the show on Disney+. Now anyone who’s already plunked down money for a subscription so they can watch The Mandalorian and all the Marvel movies can watch Hamilton in the privacy of their own home, pants optional. People are having watch parties, festive-themed food, the Hamilton drinking game (check Google, there are many), and breaking out their #YAYHAMLET t-shirts and their Schuyler sister cosplays.
The Hamilfilm itself is somewhere between the stage experience and a movie. My standard complaint with pro-shots of musicals is that they get a little too enthusiastic in the editing room. I’m all for close-ups and angles, but it’s frustrating when a show is shot like it’s a music video. Hamilton walks that line pretty well. The filming is clever, but it’s not TOO clever. It’s not “point a camera, walk away, make a sandwich”, but it’s not David Fincher either. It’s definitely one of the better pro-shots I’ve seen. I saw the show in New York with this cast from the front row due to a lucky lottery win, so I got to see the details and the sweat and the nuance that folks in the back row didn’t get to see. They’ll get to see it now.
Broadway has been shut down since March and isn’t coming back until at least January 2021. Entertainers and artists all over the world are out of work. The entertainment industry comes with more than its share of anxiety anyway, since you rarely know where your next gig is coming from. The arts, and the people who create them, need a boost from the people who love them. I’m hoping Hamilton proves to be that boost, that it reminds people why the arts are important. I’ve no doubt that Hamilton will be back when Broadway reopens, but so many other shows are iffy or have been cancelled already.
Even though Disney, being Disney, is only allowing one of the show’s three F-bombs, everything else is there. By this time next week, the show will have a new group of fans—the people who couldn’t afford to see it on stage, or who refused to see it because it was popular (you know who you are), who will have hopefully gotten over themselves enough to give it a chance. And if you watch it and it turns out to be not your cuppa? No big deal, but now you get to dislike it from an informed position. And if you still don’t have any interest, that’s cool too. Just, maybe think about not peeing on the parade of everyone who IS excited about this? I promise, letting people like what they like doesn’t make you any less cool.