For any self-respecting #HamFan, the original production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s already classic musical Hamilton – the one captured on the multi-platinum cast recording released in 2015 – is the Holy Grail of musical theatre. Most would give their right lung to have been in the room where it first happened: a treat reserved for the fortunate few who bagged a seat while it ran at New York’s Public Theater and subsequently on Broadway.
Back then Hamilton was red-hot: a pulsating, rap-fuelled rollercoaster that used the eventful life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton to probe the aspirations, contradictions and deep-seated divisions of the nation he helped build. Five years on and laid low by Covid, it’s inevitably lost a little of its sizzle – making this the ideal time to drop this 2016 chronicle of the piece in its prime.
Introduced in an exhilarating opening salvo that spans 20 years in just four minutes, idealistic immigrant Hamilton (played with dazzling verbal dexterity by Miranda himself) is a free-thinking firebrand whose strategic acumen helps Washington win the Revolutionary War. Yet his fiery temperament also earns him enemies over the course of two densely plotted acts whose large assortment of characters and machine-gun wordplay might well have the uninitiated yearning for a textbook.
No prior knowledge is needed, though, to enjoy the rap battles, pistol duels and betrayals both political and personal that festoon this startlingly contemporary history lesson. And then there’s the finely honed performances that Leslie Odom Jr. (as Hamilton’s bitter rival Aaron Burr), Jonathan Groff (as a preening George III) and the rest of the flawless ensemble bring to the party. Only the separately filmed, close-up inserts jar, their cinematic artifice never quite gelling with the audience-witnessed spectacle.