Entertainment

How Disney+'s 'Hamilton' Movie Adapted the Stage Show for Screens

You should watch it even if you've seen 'Hamilton' IRL.

hamilton
Disney+

The Hamilton marquee is still up at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City, but it's quiet inside. Alexander Hamilton isn't writing like he's running out of time. Marquis de Lafayette isn't rapping at the speed of light about guns and ships. The novel coronavirus has shut down Broadway for the time being, but there's a treat waiting for musical theater fans on Disney+: Hamilton is now streaming.

The movie arrives on the platform July 3, its release having been pushed up to meet this specific moment. It's Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning show about the first U.S. treasury secretary in its entirety, filmed with its original cast. It's something truly special. 

Is this Hamilton any different from the Broadway production? 

No. In terms of content, this is what you would have seen if you attended the show in June 2016. And that's incredible; so rarely are live performances captured and released on this scale. Seeing Hamilton on Broadway, especially with the original cast, was prohibitively expensive, and now it's available to stream in full for $6.99 a month. Save for a brief introduction from Miranda and director Thomas Kail, the Hamilton film is just Hamilton, beginning to end, with the Disney logo slapped in front.

hamilton
Disney+

How was it filmed? 

This is where the experience of Hamilton changes a bit. Kail didn't just stick a camera in the back of the theater and shoot the stage head on. According to a report in the New York Times, to translate the show to a new medium, there were nine cameras installed throughout the theater, which filmed two performances.

On top of that, the cast did 13 numbers in between shows so Kail and the crew could get close-ups and other intricate shots that would otherwise require a camera to be visible on stage. This means there are moments that are documented in a manner that the average audience member would never get to experience. Take for instance, George Washington's introduction in "Right Hand Man." Viewers now see Christopher Jackson's face close up before he turns to face the crowd as he says, "We are out-gunned, out-manned, out-numbered, out-planned." As the cast quite literally "rewinds" the action in Angelica Schuyler's showstopper "Satisfied," we see the choreography from an overhead shot. 

If I'm one of the lucky few who has seen Hamilton, why should I watch this? 

Well, obviously, Hamilton is amazing. That's a pretty banal statement in 2020, but watching it again helps you remember what all the hype was about in the first place. It's an extraordinary piece of theater, and even though this country's disillusionment with politics has grown considerably since Hamilton premiered, the show's take on the system remains as spiky as it is heartfelt. Yes, Miranda seems to adore his subject, but his play is also clear-eyed about how fickle American ideals are. 

But the real value of rewatching is the detail with which you can see the actor's work. Renée Elise Goldsberry is astonishing on stage as Angelica, but now you can see just how carefully her every movement was planned and the subtle reactions that flit across her face. Seeing the mix of pain and ambition on Leslie Odom Jr. wears as Aaron Burr is breathtaking. The Hamilton movie is a testament to the detail that goes into these portrayals that don't always translate to an audience in a packed theater.   

jonathan groff
Disney+

Is there an intermission? 

There is! It's not the full 15 minutes you get in a Broadway house, but the movie does pause for a minute so you can take a bathroom break, get another glass of wine, or do whatever you want in a minute. (If you really need those 15 minutes -- or longer, it's your house -- you can always pause. No one is stopping you.) 

Is there spit? 

Why yes! There is. And sweat. Broadway actors work insanely hard and now you can see all the bodily fluids they emit while giving it their all. Of specific note is the saliva of Jonathan Groff as King George III. Groff, ahem, has a reputation in theater circles for expectorating, and when he sings his multiple solos, you can see that spit in all its glory. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.