‘Hamilton’ movie review: A stunning theatrical adaptation that exceeds all expectations

‘Hamilton’ was hailed as a revolutionary piece of theatre right from when it premiered, and the movie adaptation lives up to the billing  

A bastard, orphan and son of a whore;

Scottsman dropped in the middle of Caribbean

Rapped in impeccable rhythm, against an intriguing halo of darkness, these lines introduce Alexander Hamilton: one of the lesser known or discussed founding fathers of the United States of America, an immigrant and orphan, who refuses to throw away his shot; George Washington’s right-hand man and the brain behind the American banking system, who was shot to death by his contemporary Aron Burr.

Pardon me, Hamilton, one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time which premiered in 2015, is not a rags-to-riches tale. It is the origin story of America, albeit, revisionist. Now available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar, it perhaps settles the timely debate of whether televised theatre matches up to the experience of physically watching one in an auditorium teeming with people. Does it? I wouldn’t think so, but Hamilton’s televised version of the 2016 show in New York City’s Richard Rodgers Theatre directed by Thomas Kail, definitely makes it a possibility. Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is also the creator of the piece, it is undoubtedly a huge step in the right direction: an attempt at democratising the experience of Broadway that otherwise would have cost anything upwards of $500.

Hamilton was hailed as a revolutionary piece of theatre right from when it premiered. And, rightfully so. Five years later, it has not lost its charm. With the rapping Statesmen oozing swagger and a narration told almost entirely in funky hip hop beats and R&B from the New York of the 1770s, the musical makes a loud and clear statement. It takes the largely white history of America and portrays it through the lens of cultural and artistic symbols that represent a black or immigrant past. At one point, Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who fought alongside Hamilton in the American Revolutionary War, tells him, “Immigrants, we get the job done.”

As dandy as it can get

The cast literally raps history: Imagine Thomas Jefferson (played by Daveed Diggs) rapping his way through a Congressional speech, replete with mic drops and the right measure of unmistakable sass. And, political debates between Hamilton and Jefferson are nothing short of rap battles with each trying to outdo the other.

  • Director: Thomas Kail
  • Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. , Philippa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Groff, Christopher Neal Jackson
  • Run time: 160 minutes
  • Storyline: A musical that traces the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, and his role in the American Revolutionary War against colonialism

Miranda as Hamilton, ‘the man who writes like he is running out of time’, is a treat to the eyes with his subtle wit and understated genius in shifting between moods. Whereas, King George III channelled brilliantly by Jonathan Groff, is a stinging symbol of whiteness and the all-too-evident superiority that comes with being a monarch: his body language dripping with condescension for his subjects, immediately evokes laughter. Eliza Hamilton, played by Philippa Soo, has an endearing presence throughout the play conquering the highest of notes effortlessly, and occasionally breaking into glorious beatboxing. The danger of Eliza falling into the bracket of an all-forgiving wife flips in that very moment. Renée Elise Goldsberry delivers a heartfelt performance as the strong Angelica Schyler who is secretly in love with Hamilton: her singing is to die for.

Miranda’s music and lyrics leave one humming for days together. Each character can be identified with a song: whether it is ‘My Shot’ for Hamilton or ‘Aron Burr, Sir’ for Burr. An out-and-out musical with every single dialogue strung seamlessly through music, visually too, travels from one scene to another through smooth-flowing choreography. A revolving stage only amplifies the visual quality, making the characters seem like they are constantly on the move as the show progresses. The back up artists, every move of theirs choreographed, alter the mood of each scene. Shot from different angles, the camera alternates between tight shots that capture the emotional scale of the actors and long ones that concentrate heavily on blocking, whether it is a duel scene or the complex choreography of a song.

Educational, not preachy

For an Indian audience, Hamilton is as much educational as it is entertaining: a pop version of America’s founding history peppered with offerings only a Broadway musical can provide. However, the duration of two hours and 40 minutes, might seem exhausting for those unfamiliar with the genre. Though the problem of slavery is adressed, it fails to find a prominent space in the narration.

The winning stroke, however, lies in the writing of the play that oscillates between humour, personal tragedy, political power play, parallel story arcs and multiple shifts in moods; not to mention, a largely black-brown cast that works together to subvert all conventional notions of narrating history.

“What is legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you’ll never see,” sings Hamilton as his whole life flashes before his eyes in slow motion, seconds before he falls prey to Burr’s bullet. This dialogue perhaps sums up Miranda’s choice of telling the story of Hamilton, the only founding father whose efforts have not gotten its due in America’s written history.

Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?

Hamilton is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 5:59:00 AM |

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