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Hamilton diversifies U.S. origin story

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Disney Plus puts “The Room Where It Happens” in homes for streaming a version of the play Hamilton, once bound for movie theaters. Covid-19 changed those cinematic plans, moving the project’s release up to the thoroughly appropriate July Fourth weekend. In introductory comments, the play’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, points out these tough times bring added relevancy with quote “black and brown performers telling the origin story of our country.”

Miranda, whose family comes from Puerto Rico, plays Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant whose stint as the United States’ first secretary of treasury put his face on the ten-dollar bill. With a ground-breaking and Tony-winning hip hop take on history, Miranda’s play stormed Broadway and the world, introducing the concept of theatergoing to a more diverse audience than usually attends plays. Even after the show’s originators moved on to other projects, Hamilton continues to sell out at playhouses across the country, its strong points overcoming any need for big name stars.

Still, seeing those now-famous faces proves pleasurable as they repeat their marks at the Richard Rogers Theater in 2016 under direction by Thomas Kail. Kail, the show’s original director, uses Leaving Las Vegas movie cinematographer Declan Quinn to achieve the best in low-light photography. He films a couple of shots from angles no audience really sees in person, including views from above like Busby Berkley used in 1930’s musicals.

For the most part however, Kail sticks to basics, with distance shots showing full body action when necessary and close ups capturing the details of emotion those in back row seats might miss. At least, I missed some of those expressions when I caught the same cast at the same location a month before this production. Back then, I instantly felt Hamilton required more viewings to absorb all its complexities.

Those complexities include rapid-fire rhyming dialogue that follows historical record while adding insight to current concerns. Catch phrases result, including the advice to quote “talk less and smile more” or the observation that “dying is easy; living is harder.” Much more turns up, and the streaming option makes it easier to take a second or third look. Hamilton warrants this extra attention because while the play talks history, it also created history with a flashy, fun approach to musical entertainment.

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