From the stage to the screen: ‘Hamilton’ doesn’t throw away its shot

By Cara McCarthy

Associate Editor

Musical theater junkies were disappointed when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Broadway. Thankfully, Disney+ and the creators of “Hamilton” brought the award-winning musical to viewers’ TVs earlier this summer.

Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and based on Ron Chernow’s biography, “Hamilton” follows the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, played by Miranda, from the moment he arrived in America, to his eventual duel with former Vice President Aaron Burr, played by Leslie Odom Jr. 

The film was directed by Thomas Kail, premiered worldwide on Disney+ July 3, and starred the original Broadway cast.

The musical-turned-film stars not only Broadway actors like Philipa Soo as Eliza Schuyler/Hamilton, but includes a wide range of musical artists making their first curtain call, including Daveed Diggs of Clipping – who played Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson – and Anthony Ramos, who played John Laurens and Philip Hamilton.

The cast itself is extremely diverse. The historical figures who make up the cast were white in real life; however, Miranda made it a point to make a cast as diverse as the America we now know today.

One of the best parts about the film is that they did their best to give viewers at home an immersive Broadway experience. This included not only a directory to silence all cell phones but also had a one-minute intermission between acts one and two. 

While other Broadway-musical-based films – such as “Les Misérables” – change aspects of the musical, include a lot of editing, and take place as a typical movie would, “Hamilton” instead kept to the authenticity that is their show. Voices are clear and unedited and it truly feels as if you are watching the show live.

Another great part about the musical is the presence of “The Bullet” played by Ariana Debose. While she is not a listed character, fans quickly noticed this small detail that would have been hard to spot had you been watching the musical on Broadway.

“The Bullet” serves as a death omen throughout the entirety of the film. She does this not only for Hamilton, but any character who is nearing their death. “The Bullet” tends to touch a character either before a song or during the song in which they die. However, we see “The Bullet” throughout the movie always close to Hamilton and getting closer toward the end of the film.

Additionally, a play about the American Revolution would not be complete without King George III and the British army. There are several jokes made about the king throughout the play that provide comic relief in between set and costume changes. 

Jonathan Groff, who plays King George III, does a fantastic job of portraying the character as somewhat insane throughout the film. All three songs Groff sings sound as if he (the king) and his girlfriend (America) broke up and he believes America won’t succeed without him. In other words, Groff portrays King George III as the gaslighting ex-boyfriend we all want to stay away from. Some songs even go as far as saying he will “send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”

Miranda and Groff have both said they wanted the king to come off as if he was going crazy. In several shots of Groff, his face becomes red, his voice gets louder, and he appears to froth at the mouth. This was something Groff added himself to his performance, according to him. 

While a lot of the film is upbeat, there are instances where the pace is slowed down and emotions take over. Specifically, songs like “Hurricane” and “Burn” are two of the most emotionally intense and lyrically complex scenes and are accompanied by dramatic lighting choices and close-ups.

While “Hamilton” centers around the Founding Fathers, it also has several strong female characters – specifically, the Schuyler sisters. 

From the first time we are introduced to Peggy, Angelica, and Eliza – played by Jasmine Cephas Jones, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Philipa Soo respectively – it is clear these women are going to be a driving force throughout the musical. 

The song, “Schuyler Sisters,” even points to their feminist ideals, especially as the women sing to the audience, “We hold these truths to be self-evident / that all men are created equal.” Angelica then follows it up by singing, “When I meet Thomas Jefferson, / Imma compel him to include women in the sequel.” Immediately, Angelica is painted as a feminist character.

Angelica also serves as a motherly figure who would do anything to see her sister Eliza happy, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness. In “Satisfied,” we see Angelica toasting to her sister and Hamilton’s marriage. She sings until the beat changes entirely, ominous lighting coats the stage and the entire scene shifts from being about the newlyweds to Angelica.

She goes from delivering powerful vocals to the happy couple, to plowing through her lyrics a mile a minute, giving the audience a chance to see the racing thoughts going through her mind as she watches her sister with the love of her life. “I know my sister like I know my own mind, / You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind / If I tell her that I love him she’d be silently resigned / He’d be mine / She would say ‘I’m fine’ / She’d be lying.”

The attention to detail in terms of the characters’ portrayals is almost seamless. Diggs’ character, Marquis de Lafayette, has one of the best evolutions throughout the first act. 

Lafayette historically did not speak English very well when he first journeyed to America as he was from France. In the musical, his character goes from double-checking his pronunciation of “anarchy,” in “My Shot,” to racing through his lyrics in “Guns and Ships,” showing how his speech improved throughout the war.

Miranda wrote a musical that would not only show America’s beginnings through the eyes of the treasury secretary, but he wanted to make it in a way that has never been done before on broadway – through hip-hop.

The most entertaining part about the film is that every character has their own musical style and they blend their voices together for the duration of the film. For Lafayette, his voice progresses throughout the first act, for Thomas Jefferson, also played by Diggs, has a sophisticated and diplomatic tone. Meanwhile, Eliza has a constant loving and motherly tone in her voice throughout the musical.

There are three duels we see throughout the film and they all share the same song inspired by “Ten Crack Commandments,” by Notorious B.I.G. The songs, though they have different titles, share the same beat – but different lyrics – as the first song titled, “Ten Duel Commandments.” 

The best part about the duel scenes – they all end differently. 

In “Ten Duel Commandments,” they explain the 10 major rules of duelling. In the second duel-related track, someone shoots their gun too early. 

Finally, the infamous duel between Hamilton and Burr makes its way to the forefront. Toward the end of the film we see the tension start to boil over as Hamilton openly endorses Jefferson for president over Burr – a real life event. 

In “The World Was Wide Enough,” there is a significant break where time freezes and Hamilton sings to the audience before meeting his fate. “Burr, my first friend my enemy, / Maybe the last face I ever see, / If I throw away my shot, is this how you remember me? / What if this bullet is my legacy?”

While the musical itself is a masterpiece and has given thousands of people a new love of history, the technological errors made in making the Hamilton film are impossible to ignore. 

For starters, there were several performances of the musical filmed and then stitched together post production. Two performances of the show were shot in front of an audience and one was performed to an empty theater in order to get closer shots. 

While this is a smart and innovative way to get close up shots during intense moments in the play, there was one major production mistake while using this strategy – Angelica Schuyler’s performance of “Satisfied.”

The song itself, and Renée Elise Goldsberry’s portrayal of Hamilton’s sister-in-law, is phenomenal. However, there are significant, and frankly annoying discrepancies. In one shot, which was filmed in front of an audience, Goldsberry is clearly seen with a flower pinned to her dress – in the next shot it’s gone. 

Had this happened once or twice, perhaps it could be overlooked, but this error continues throughout the entirety of the scene and distracted me from everything else. 

Despite its minimal errors, “Hamilton,” is the perfect combination of Broadway and film and may just kickstart a new kind of revolution.

B+

They made us wait for it, but it was worth it.

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