by E. McDonnell
‘The show is unlike anything I have ever seen before. From the first moment when the lights go down and the beat starts, there is a moment of surprise as the song begins.’
Created by: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Plot: Hamilton, tells the story of forgotten American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and his ascent out of poverty and to power, against the backdrop of the American War of Independence.
Hamilton, the extremely popular and well acclaimed Broadway musical, has now come to our screens on Disney +. For years, I have heard great things about this show and really wanted to see it live but it wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully, I and so many others who haven’t had the chance to see the worldwide phenomenon can now watch it in the comfort of our living rooms, and I was not disappointed….
The show is unlike anything I have ever seen before. From the first moment when the lights go down and the beat starts, there is a moment of surprise as the song begins.
One of the most astonishing, iconic and memorable moments of the show is the music. It is described as a mix of Hip hop, Jazz and Musical Theatre but I think the genius of the songs, all written by lead star Lin Manuel Miranda, is how they manage to achieve so much in so little time.
It is not quite rapping but a form of lyrical poetry, that manages to both tell the story of the characters, express their feelings, set the scenes, describe the historical events and most importantly – sound good! So many musicals have that one song, the one it is known for, but Hamilton has an album’s worth. The popularity of its songs is proven by the millions of online sales to fans who have both seen and not seen the show, although I think the songs work best in the show’s context. The songs are really catchy and I couldn’t get them out of my head after watching which is unique compared to other musicals I have watched – I could even imagine hearing some on the radio. Some of the songs, especially George 3rds, are hilarious; any song from the Skylar sisters is powerful and any song from Hamilton or Burr, the latter having some of the best songs of the show, despite being the ‘villain’, are incredibly emotional. Each character has a different style, from 80s hip-hop, to modern rap, with some even impersonating famous rappers which gives the show a really fresh feel. The congress meetings are even expressed in rap battles which was really fun to watch. Even though it is about the war of independence, it feels extremely current, and just as it was famous for its innovation at its release, the music adds to its revolutionary themes. Somehow, each song captures a different mood, event or emotion with the show carrying through-lines associated with the characters and musical motifs that change and adapt as the story goes on – it is really something that immerses you and leaves you in awe.
And of course, those songs could not have been as memorable if it wasn’t for the insanely good performances of all the cast – some playing two (or more) completely opposite characters. The story is very complex, as are the characters within it, and it is awe-inspiring watching the different characters transition from different emotions, whilst remembering all of the complicated vocals and choreography. Many of the characters are very complex and as the story covers a long period of time, the actors manage to show, both physically and psychologically, how the characters have changed, with maybe its ‘double edged sword’ being that the ‘villains’ are likeable and the ‘heroes’ are in the ‘grey’ area. Nevertheless, each performer gives 110% and this passion really adds to the enjoyment of the show.
The musical plays on historical elements, with period costumes and a main set that resembles an 1800s dockyard, representing the history of America. The different settings the story takes place in, however, are created by nothing more than the actor’s performance and maybe a table or chair. It is incredible how an intense battle scene is constructed with an empty stage – it is another innovative marvel of Hamilton.
Another innovation is the structure of the story itself. The settings and time jump around in a non-linear order, switching between different characters. This makes it even more intriguing and immersive, as the surreal sequences of flashbacks and pauses to reveal character motivation, or even re-watching the same scene through different characters eyes, guide the viewer. The opening song which introduces us to Hamilton himself and the world of 1800s America actually outright tells the audience how it will end and what will happen to the characters; and yet, the storytelling is so good that the ending is still a shock – as is the journey along the way. The lighting and choreography of the show also help to bring this element of the show to life. This is a unique blend of storytelling that I haven’t encountered in any other musical, or many films for that matter.
Although, and I don’t like criticising something I enjoyed so much, but to a different audience, Hamilton may be less enjoyable. The structure of the story is slightly hard to follow, as with all the time jumping and the musical storytelling, especially in the rap verses, which can be hard to grasp. For those who are not necessarily rap fans, although most of the songs are sung in a very traditional musical sense, they may find the show very intense and maybe a little ‘too’ revolutionary- although I would argue that this should not deter people at all. The only other show that resembles Hamilton in any way would be Lés Misérables in scope, narrative and music, although they are two very different shows – however, like ‘Lés Mis’ or any Shakespeare play, on first viewing, it can be hard to grasp all of the themes and events although once you get into it, it’s very worthwhile.
I would recommend maybe pre-reading up on the history of the War of Independence, if at all possible, as it makes the events of show so much easier to understand and I found it more enjoyable, although understanding the characters is very easy to follow and so looking too much into the period before watching would maybe affect your show experience.
Overall, the show is a unique, innovative and extremely exciting show with incredible performances, choreography and music. It is a historical story told by a diverse modern audience and is truly one of its kind. It is a show that requires multiple viewings to truly see all the motifs and references, as well as making your own assumptions of the characters to fully admire it. I am so happy to have finally seen the show and it exceeded my expectations and more. As it is only on Disney + for a limited time, I would recommend anyone to go watch it while they can. So, go “take your shot” and “don’t wait for it” (ha-ha Hamilton jokes, if you’ve seen it then you’ll know what I’m talking about!)
Hamilton is currently available on Disney + and was rated 10+ by the BBFC.