Courtesy of Disney+

July 15, 2020

‘Hamilton’ Brings Broadway to Your Living Room

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That’s how it’s done.

As I watched Hamilton on The Fourth of July, marveling at the phenomenal performances of the original cast and singing along to the score that I know by heart, it still felt fresh and exciting. Hamilton stays grounded; it is simply a recording of three June 2016 performances by the original cast, stitched together. Hamilton, the Broadway musical, is fantastic, and so is Hamilton the film. In fact, it comes close to replicating the experience of seeing the show live.

I won’t bother re-reviewing the musical itself. It’s one of the best shows of all time and has permanently revolutionized musical theater. Technically, the live recording has no major issues. The sound quality is flawless, and the camera angles switch between wide and close up angles when necessary to complement the action on stage. The cast delivers a timeless performance, with every member in top form. As someone who has seen the show live and played the soundtrack to death, almost every number still gave me goosebumps.

It’s amazing that the production of this film was so effective despite being so simple — it’s just a recording of the show, with the footage edited together. Yet, the mass distribution of a Broadway recording hasn’t really been done with a modern hit show before. Only the Netflix exclusive recording of Shrek The Musical comes to mind. Every instance of musical theater on the big screen gets filtered through the movie adaptation (Les Misérables, Cats) or live TV special formats (Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Hairspray). In doing so, these movies and TV specials have been lackluster at best, and laughable at worst. In taking the simpler route, Hamilton keeps shattering expectations.

Puzzlingly, the vast majority of musical theater adaptations have been of below average quality. Perhaps in the process of adapting a musical to TV or film there are a host of opportunities for non-musical theater folks to make inexperienced or questionable artistic decisions. Those decisions often detract from the final product; Casting directors thrust stars into parts for which they are ill-suited, such as John Legend in Jesus Christ Superstar and Russel Crow in Les Mis. Film directors have made decisions that compromise the quality of the musical, like digitizing the Cats designs or using the live audio recordings from the actors in Les Mis. Even talented actors may make performance decisions that cause unintended harm to their singing voices, such as Anne Hathaway crying during “I Dreamed a Dream” or Hugh Jackman purposefully dehydrating himself to build muscle for Les Mis. In both of these cases, the vocal performances were needlessly compromised. Why make so many changes from the source material?

Airing a live show recording simplifies everything. All the artistic beats of the show have been streamlined and perfected over time. With a revered musical like Hamilton, there is no risk of messing it up, and the combined talent and rehearsals of the cast and crew is still rewarded.

Disney’s live recording of Hamilton revitalized my passion for the show. Whether you’ve seen the show in person, listened obsessively to the soundtrack or have only caught snippets of bootlegged footage, the original cast recording brought to Disney+ offers never-before-seen access to the show. The $7/month price tag of a Disney+ subscription offers exceptional value considering how expensive a Hamilton ticket is and how good the Hamilton film is. I am excited that this will give those who can’t see the show live an opportunity to experience its magic. Going forward, I can see the success of this film prompting other Broadway shows to produce live recordings, revolutionizing the way musical theater is dispensed to the public — in its purest, most authentic form.

 

James Robertson is a senior in The College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jrobertson@cornellsun.com.