Because the original soundtrack to this play was released in 2016, this review contains spoilers.
After watching a recording of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony awards in 2016, I’m not sure I will ever be satisfied.
On July 3, the streaming platform Disney+ released a recording of the play with the original cast performing live in New York at Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016. Like every other Hamilton fan, I was excited to see the recording of a play and have listened to the soundtrack non-stop. But after sitting through the nearly three hour-long play, I couldn’t help but want more.
“Hamilton” is the critically acclaimed story of America at war for independence during the time of the politician, statesman and founding father Alexander Hamilton (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda). The Broadway musical blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and other forms of music, creating a soundtrack that will remain a masterpiece for many decades to come.
But what I didn’t realize before watching the play was that it goes from one song to the next without any additional dialogue between songs. This meant transitions were choppy, which made it hard to follow. The story itself is amazing, but it takes a lot of concentration to understand the lyrics at such a fast pace.
The pacing is a jukebox of variety that can freeze time for Hamilton to give a heartfelt monologue while a bullet is shooting towards him, or it can speed through a whole week of Hamilton writing in his office after his wife Eliza (played by Phillipa Soo) asks him to stop and visit her sister Angelica (played by Renée Elise Goldsberry) for the summer.
One of the most interesting scenes was when Angelica gives a toast at Hamilton and Eliza’s wedding. She takes the audience back in time to the previous scene where they all met at a winter ball. The first time the audience sees the winter ball is from Eliza’s perspective, but the next time it is from Angelica's perspective to show that she wanted Hamilton for herself.
The play has an excellent use of repetition with the same lyrics used under different contexts: “I am not throwing away my shot” or “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now” are both lines used multiple times throughout the play with various connotations.
The recording offers an intense visual that cannot be found in the soundtrack — maybe even at a live performance. Emotional moments are intensified within scenes like the deathbed of Hamilton's son, or when Eliza burns the love letters from Hamilton after he publishes the “Reynold Pamphlet,” which exposed his recent love affair with another woman.
The camera close-ups are something not possible at live performances. When King George III (played by Johnathan Groff) sings his solo “You’ll Be Back,” the audience can even see saliva splashing from his chin.
At times, I struggled to find the purpose of the ensemble cast that would run in dancing at dramatic moments. It was unclear if they were anything more than a visual addition to the music. They did, however, add to the excitement of some scenes, such as when Hamilton is writing letter after letter to his former friend Aaron Burr (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and the ensemble delivers the letters to Burr immediately.
The set is centered around a revolving panel that rotates for certain transitions, including one moment after Hamilton is shot by Burr at Hudson Bay and his body is taken away by two men in an imaginary row boat. This causes speculation for how “Hamilton” works when touring, since not all stages have a revolving floor, including Popejoy Hall. Hamilton is a part of the season package for Popejoy, set in 2021 from Jan. 19 to Feb. 7.
The unfortunate reality is that I expected this play to be a chilling experience to blow us all away. The opening score filled me with excitement — as if I had just had my first kiss — but as the play went on, I couldn’t help but know it’s not the same on a screen. I’m willing to wait for it to come to Popejoy, even though it won’t be performed by the original cast. I can’t help but want to be in the room where it happens, and while it may take a while to open theaters, I'll be back to watch it live.
Daniel Ward is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wordsofward34