How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman suddenly become a cultural phenomenon?
If you’re one of the fortunate few to have seen Hamilton, the Broadway musical that became one of the hottest — and most expensive — theater tickets in recent memory, you know the answer to that question. For everyone else, Disney is bringing Hamilton to its streaming service for what is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated additions to the Disney+ library since the platform launched last year.
The creation of multitalented writer, musician, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical (as it’s officially titled) began its hip-hop journey through the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton as an off-Broadway production in February 2015. The unconventional show quickly caught fire, moving to Broadway, then nationwide, then worldwide, racking up a long list of prestigious awards along the way — including the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Hamilton now makes the leap from stage to screen July 3, when Disney will offer subscribers to its Disney+ streaming service the chance to watch the musical from their own homes as a professionally produced recording of the celebrated stage musical, performed by its original Broadway cast.
For a wide swath of audiences, the opportunity to watch Hamilton in any way, shape, or form is too good to pass up, regardless of how many times they might have seen it already. And yet, for some, the decision might not be as simple — particularly if you’re worried that, at best, a Hamilton movie will fall short of the hype, and at worst could spoil the experience of waiting to seeing it on stage.
So, should you watch Hamilton on Disney+ if you haven’t seen it on stage yet?
In short, yes — but that shouldn’t stop you from also seeing it on stage at the first opportunity do so.
While opinions differ about how one should experience Hamilton, there’s a bit more certainty when it comes to what has made the musical such a massive hit.
It’s not hyperbole to call Hamilton a modern masterpiece. The show transcends generations and makes its titular historical figure’s biography resonate with audiences no matter their age, race, gender, or prior awareness of American history. That alone is enough to put it in elite company, but its myriad themes also manage to be as powerful and poetic as Miranda’s rapid-fire lyrics, offering a master lesson in wordsmithery, along with a crash course in the nation’s founding years.
All of that is important to keep in mind, because it holds just as true for the recorded version of the production as it does for the live performance.
To its credit, Disney has indicated that nothing has been cut from the stage performance of Hamilton save for a few expletives (precisely two, according to Miranda), so the story and its fundamental delivery remain the same no matter how you watch it performed — and that’s one big reason not to shy away from Disney’s recording of Hamilton.
Another element working in the Disney film’s favor is that, for anyone who wasn’t able to get a ticket to the original Broadway show, this might be the only option to see Hamilton performed by its original cast.
With the exception of a few reunion events or specials, it’s been several years years since the original cast of Hamilton turned over the production to their successors in the roles — and the cast has turned over several more times since then. Disney’s film was recorded in 2016, prior to the departure of most of the original cast, and it now serves an archive of sorts of those history-making years when Miranda was joined by fellow cast members Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, and others on the stage.
Even if you were to get tickets to one of the touring performances of Hamilton in the future — and you should, if at all possible — the faces you see on stage won’t be the same you see in Disney’s film, and the voices you hear won’t be those on the original cast recordings. Disney’s film removes some of that dissonance at the expense of the live experience, and offers a baseline of sorts for the first-time Hamilton viewer.
Of course, none of this should be read as an excuse to let your Hamilton experience only go as far as Disney’s film.
There’s nothing quite like seeing Hamilton live, regardless of who’s on stage. The energy that feeds the show is arguably as important to Hamilton as anything that’s said — or sung — on the stage, and while it’s one thing to watch a film with fast-paced dialogue, it’s something else entirely to see actors deliver Miranda’s whirlwind lyrics in person. Movie magic being what it is, you’d be forgiven for thinking that some of the show’s most tricky lines were artificially sped up for the film, but watching Hamilton live hammers home just how talented the show’s cast and creator truly are.
Disney took a big gamble by opting not to release the Hamilton film in theaters as the studio initially planned to do in October 2021, and instead make it available to streaming audiences more than a year early. With theaters closed around the nation and no timetable for curtains to rise on Broadway or elsewhere, there’s a great opportunity this Independence Day to find out why everyone is so high on Hamilton.
After all, even if the Disney film doesn’t do it for you, you can rest easy knowing that — when given the chance to see Hamilton — you didn’t throw away your shot.
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