Above is a link to a podcast featuring myself and my sister Sophie discussing the phenomenon that is Hamilton. In it we talk about our biggest takeaways from this cinematic release of the cultural touchstone. Sophie brings her experience in theater into the breakdown as I praise the fabulous direction and visual storytelling. Together we discuss what makes Hamilton work, what are it’s best moments, and what it means for potential cinematic theater releases going forward.
My biggest takeaways from Hamilton:While all of the performers are fantastic in their own right, none shine brighter than Daveed Diggs for me. Literally the first notes I wrote down when watching the movie was “Daveed Diggs is really captivating; his acting when not the focal point is grasping my attention.” Playing the parts of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, Diggs has so many landmark moments of quick witty one-liners and fantastic “non-focal point” acting. His reactions and mannerisms truly stood out.
Also, while I am a not a huge fan of Disney remaking every single animated classic in live-action…knowing that Diggs is playing Sebastian in The Little Mermaid has me more interested.
Diggs as Jefferson had one of the best lines in the movie when he said “Can we get back to the politics?” Literally one of the few, and maybe only quibble, about Hamilton is that the romantic parts of the story were not as intoxicating as the political drama. The frenemies relationship between Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) is the most intriguing in the entire show. I understand how Hamilton’s romantic transgressions are part of his own personal downfall courtesy of a drive to never be satisfied. It serves its purpose. For myself, it was just the B-Plot that got a bit too much spotlight in the second act.
The best sequence of Hamilton comes just as John Adams is announced as president and Jefferson is made vice president. Hamilton is fired and Jefferson has the uncanny and true line: “As long as he can hold a pen, he is a threat.” Then the trio of Burr, Jefferson and James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan) follow the money and accuse Hamilton of using government funds (while he was secretary of the treasury) to pay off Mr. James Reynolds to hide up his affair with Maria (who entered into the stage with a bright red dress…nice little bit of passion symbolism).
When Hamilton is first put on the defensive, the exchange between the four of them is wickedly good with fantastic chemistry. There are wonderful callbacks to the idea of “no one in the room” which Burr sang about earlier, but more impressively it raises a point that provokes deep thought.
Hamilton never broke the law in regards to paying Reynolds. He kept receipts, and has all the physical proof to show that he never embezzled money away from the government. Coming as a surprise to the accusing trio, both Madison and Jefferson seem to acknowledge that no one will find out…but Burr is not to be trusted (for obvious reasons).
This brings out the Reynolds pamphlet…which may also be the top song of the entire Broadway play. Hamilton thought that by raising his own pen and telling his own story, he could free himself of a possible storm, like how he did when leaving his birth place and immigrating to make a new life for himself. How he literally rose himself up with his writing. Hamilton thought he could do this again…but MAN OH MAN!
The next two minutes are staged in in a horrific irony. The blue spotlight circles around Hamilton on stage as he can not escape the eye of the hurricane that he created for himself by trying to exonerate himself of a potentially career-halting story that was to come. Instead in his selfishness, he cuts ties with many of the relationships that mean the most to him. Eliza (Phillipa Soo) finds out she has been cheated on, and Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry) is not longer satisfied by Hamilton. The callback to Angelica’s first solo song of inner consciousness literally had me yelping. Just remarkable writing.
The ending to this “10 out of 10” sequence comes with the overhead shot of Hamilton standing still in the center of a stage with it literally spinning around him and everything around him raging like a storm. The irony of thinking that his greatest gift of writing could help him escape the impending tempest (much like he did when leaving his homeland) but it instead burns any sense of happiness and career aspirations he had.
I referenced the “Satisfied” song earlier. For myself, it is the best song in the entire show. Goldsberry is pulling everyone in towards her with her rendition. More amazing for me is how Miranda was able to write a scene “rewind” so well; shifting the point of view of a scene to new party and still keeping the audience 100% engaged. Visually on stage it is done well but it’s in the song that the shift is so telling. Even just listening to it without the visual, it still transports your understanding. It is goosebumps inducing.
Just to get it out of the way now, here are my top three songs from Hamilton, with a couple notable metions
The Reynolds Pamphlets
Honorable Mentions: Hurricane, 10 Duel Commandments & Battle of Yorktown
Here are some visual things I noticed that only enhanced the Hamilton experience more.
The introduction of three different characters in three unique ways
Alexander Hamilton had the classic zoom close up upon his arrival
King George III (Jonathan Groff) was introduced from a camera set up backstage, and his back was to the camera. This was the first time this camera was used…and one can read into the fact his back was turned on those watching him.
George Washington (Chris Jackson) was introduced from that same back camera, but his face was towards the camera before running onto the stage. One can read he was looking at his audience, looking at those he is leading before running into the fray.
The shot to close out right before intermission. Hamilton is center stage and behind him is a staircase with George Washington standing of it. Washington is that “god-like” figure that Hamilton can ride the coattails of success with; he can climb the social or political latter by following this man. But while Hamilton has that looming over him, he is also being torn in two directions by Eliza and Angelica. Both women are literally grabbing his arm, symbolizing the two types of love the enable. But what does Hamilton do? He runs up the staircase. He runs toward the potential of his personal success…for better or for worse.
The previously mentioned overhead camera shot of Hamilton being drowned by the storm he has wrote himself into.
Hamilton really did an exceptional job sticking the landing. Sophie explains in the podcast how the ending left her in stitches and picking up the tissues. For me I just had goosebumps.
To wrap a motif through an entire story is so, so difficult to do. Hamilton does it so well with the “I’m not throwing away my shot.” phrase. In the beginning it is about how Hamilton will do anything to grasp what he wanted, but come the end of his story and of this play, he does throw away a shot…in a literal sense. It shows the change of heart that Hamilton went through over the final third of the play.
This is hard for me to personally quantify, but for more than a handful of plays I have been to, I do not remember the exact ending moments. This even goes for The Book Of Mormon, which is the funniest thing I have ever seen on a stage. Plays that I truly remember the final moments are now Hamilton, Les Miserables, and arguably Phantom Of The Opera (only because I have seen it so much. I still think the play is slightly overrated.
Ladies and gentleman, I am here to tell you what you already know.
Hamilton is absurdly good. It is beyond entertaining. Hamilton is worth all the hype. I can go on and on about things that make it so exceptional, but that would be futile. This is a story that is so good on so many levels that anyone can find something different to enjoy.
All I can say is this: Let Hamilton wash over you. Let it envelop you. Lin-Manuel Miranda made something extraordinary, and everyone involved in it deserves all the credit in the world.
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