When Hamilton first came to the stage in 2015, I was adamant that I wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon. I mean, everyone was banging on about this musical and how amazing it was. How different and inspiring. It didn’t help that my interest in American history is basically non-existent. But, for whatever reason, I stubbornly avoided it. Until one day when I decided to listen to the soundtrack. I don’t know why I decided it was the day but I was on my way to a job interview. I wasn’t really paying attention on the way there but I was hooked by the time I got home. I couldn’t stop listening to it and I’ve not been able to stop since. Most of my top songs on Spotify for 2019 were from Hamilton. My top artist for last year was Hamilton. It’s become my go-to album and works for any mood. When I’m tired, sad, happy, bored, or just facing a long day of work. Hamilton would always be the perfect thing to sort me out. So, when it was announced that the West End run in 2019 was being lengthened, I knew I had to get tickets. Seeing it live was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had. And I’ve had some great ones.
The one thing that worried me before seeing Hamilton in London last year was the thought of not hearing the original Broadway cast performing it. Having listened to the soundtrack for so long, I couldn’t imagine anyone else singing those songs. Everyone seemed so well cast and offered brilliant performances. Obviously, I had nothing to worry about. The whole cast was incredible and brought their own spin to the characters. I have to admit that there is a part of me that preferred Jamael Westman to Lin Manuel Miranda. Don’t get me wrong, Miranda brings passion and tenacity to the role but Westman is a much stronger performer. I definitely left the theatre feeling extremely… satisfied.
But that didn’t mean I wasn’t still a little disappointed that all my favourites hadn’t been there. Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry. I mean the list of incredible performers just goes on and on. Christopher Jackon’s voice, in particular, is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Which is why the release of the film on Disney+ was such a welcome thing. Not only would it give people who have never been able to see it on stage the chance to watch it “live” but it means people can see the original performers. The people who helped make the show so well-known and beloved. As soon as I’d finished work last Friday, I sat down to watch.
Unfortunately, we got off to a rocky start. I wasn’t sure about the editing or the camera angles being used. I had sort of hoped that it was going to be a fixed camera that gave you an audience perspective of the whole thing. One that would allow you to see the whole stage and decide where to focus your attention. Instead, the view changes and you don’t often get to see everything that’s going on. Instead there are close-ups of the actors’ faces and plenty of different points of views. It bugged me that this was a theatre production that was being treated like a film. What is the point of having a load of backing dancers on stage if you weren’t able to see the choreography come together? After all, so much planning will have gone into the staging to ensure there was plenty of visual interest. Why not give everyone the chance to see it?
I admit that, as it went on, I came to appreciate the close-ups a little. It was nice to see the facial expressions or little details that you miss sitting so far from the stage. You pick up on some of the nuances of the performance that make so funny or tender. Yet, I still don’t think the editing worked too well. There were too many cuts and it felt like the director didn’t always know where to focus. Or that there were times when it was focusing on what it thought the audience wanted even if it wasn’t the main focus. There’s a moment when the camera sticks with King George even though he’s just a spectator to the action. The camera angle isn’t helping the story but is just fan service. This is a fast-paced and kind of frenetic musical so it needed a careful and restrained edit to allow the audience to take it in. I can’t say it’s the worst possible way of doing it but it doesn’t present the show in all of it’s glory.
Which is why I’m confused by the sheer number of 5* reviews I’m seeing all over the place. It feels like people are viewing the musical itself but not taking into account how it has been filmed. Hamilton itself is an undeniable 5* musical but Hamilfilm? It’s nowhere near perfect. It feels as though reviewers are biased and their love of the music is swaying them. I’m glad that this film is giving people the chance to see a show they might never have seen live but this isn’t the way to film a stage musical. Especialyl one that tells so much of the story with its staging and choreography. You lose out of so much. I’m glad I managed to see it in London first and I can’t help but feel sorry for the people who get their first/only taste of it on the platform. It’s still great but Disney kind of threw away their shot here.