I love musicals. Some of my favourite musicals are Mamma Mia and Les Miserables. One of my favourite things about musicals is the way the actors convey their emotions through their singing. In my opinion, a good musical must be entrancing, you must be able to fully immerse yourself in the world and you must feel some deep emotions. If I have not felt the urge to cry out of either happiness or misery or both by the end of a musical, that musical in my opinion is not a good one. People are going to disagree with me for this, but this one of many reasons why I didn’t enjoy the filmed version of Hamilton.
Hamilton, which tells the story of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, first debuted on Broadway in 2015. It was written by the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda who had previously written another successful Broadway show, In The Heights. This version of Hamilton was filmed in 2016 and features the original Broadway cast. Originally, Miranda had planned to release this version in October 2021 in cinemas, but in light of COVID-19, Miranda decided to make it available on the streaming service Disney+ and release it on the 3rd of July.
Before I get into anything else, let me explain what I liked about the musical. I thought the staging was incredible. It was very simple and in no way elaborate. There are very few props and I can imagine it would be a very easy musical to stage for a school play. I see this as a positive as musicals should not rely on elaborate staging to convey their messages. I also thought some of the cast gave spectacular performances. I thought Renée Elise Goldsberry was electric as Angelica Schuyler. I thought Daveed Diggs in a dual role of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson was also particulary enjoyable. I also really enjoyed Jonathan Groff as King George III, the role allowed him to display his comedic talent whilst still treating us to his amazing singing ability.
One of the first things I noticed about this musical is that there is a lot of rapping. This is definitely new for Broadway and certainly a positive introduction to more contemporary styles of music. Yet, I felt that the rapping was so fast, I couldn’t really understand what they were saying. I also noticed that the rapping was full of exposition. This does make some sense as this is an era of history that the general public tend not to know the finer details of. However at times, I felt like I was watching an actor rapping a history essay. I also found the story very hard to follow as I kept getting lost in everything being explained to me. I found after a while it got boring and I found myself looking at my phone. There was very little to intrigue me. I felt almost no emotion regarding what was happening. I tried to make myself like it, but I just couldn’t. I also felt that at times, Miranda as the titular Hamilton, lacked the charisma required for the role and came off as very cocky.
There is a slightly deeper problem I have with the musical and that is the historical accuracy. Given recent events such as the George Floyd protests and wider conversations being had about race across the globe, it is undeniable that this topic should come up when discussing Hamilton. It isn’t precisely clear whether or not Hamilton supported slavery, there arguments for both sides. However, he definitely was not the abolishonist that the musical portrays him to be. History is never as simple as black and white; however, it is clear that many of the Founding Fathers were in some way or another involved in slavery. It is also important to not forget that the War of Independence in itself was essentially fought to determine which group of white men should own the land they stole from the Native Americans.
I am not trying to suggest that America should ‘cancel’ their Founding Fathers. Liberal ideals would not exist without the groundwork laid out by those men. But like all historical figures, they were complicated and do not deserve blind praise anymore than they do blind criticism. However, if America wants to start fixing its problem of racism, a musical that depicts such a crucial part of American history without acknowledging the deep problems of race does nothing to sway the current conversation in the direction it needs to go. Furthermore, I feel by casting a diverse group of actors distracts the audience from asking any questions regarding race. It also makes white liberals feel better as they welcome people of colour whilst hiding any racist skeletons in their closet. People of colour deserve this version of history to accurately reflect their struggles for civil rights.
Maybe if this film was released last year, I might have felt differently about it. Yet while the world is coming to grips with how we handle issues regarding race, I just don’t think Hamilton does anything to remedy that. I am fully aware that I am in a small minority of people who don’t enjoy the musical. Yet just because a group of people are watching the same thing, does not mean they are seeking the same emotions and feelings from it. For some people, Hamilton will tick all of their boxes. I found it didn’t tick many of mine. Overall, I would give Hamilton a 4 out 10.