Hamilton (Or, How Bahir Watched It 5 Times, and Maybe Again, Just to Be Sure)

Dept. of Prodigious Musicality

Leslie Odom Jr. opens the show.

“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman…”

The Hamilton soundtrack has been a staple on my Spotify playlist since it was released. It’s the music I put on when I’m doing chores, or bouncing around the house vacuuming, doing the dishes, or the laundry. For years, I would jam out with Hamilton, Burr, Hercules Mulligan, and the Schuyler sisters as I danced around the house doing this and that. For years I could only imagine how these scenes would play out. You see, I had avoided any and all “unofficial” videos, sneakily shot on mobile phones from theatre stalls and up in the cheap seats. All I had seen were those White House performances (far too many times). I didn’t want to spoil the experience as I was still holding out hope to see it play out on stage. At some point.

By the 2nd of July 2020, it was safe to say I was more than familiar with the music and the words of the show. I won’t go as far as to say I could go off book, but I was definitely on my way.

Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, Hamilton and Lawrence have a drink in Hamilton.

“Raise a glass to freedom…”

As I sit here to rewatch the #HamilFilm for the fifth time since it debuted on Disney+ on the 3rd of July, a rush of excitement inevitably rises within me. That excitement has dimmed slightly since that first viewing, where I was grinning from ear to ear like the proverbial Cheshire cat, but only slightly. The voice of Jonathan Groff’s King George III welcomes us to the show, warning us – as only he can – about the use of cellphones and recording devices. It’s all about to kick off…

“You want a revolution, I want a revelation…”

And does it ever kick off. The opening number introduces Alexander Hamilton in all his glory and dark history. Leslie Odom Jr. opens the show, singing the first lines of a song that has probably done more to cement Alexander Hamilton in the minds of Americans (and musical lovers from around the world) than any book has before.

(*Pop Culture Trivia: The first “Got Milk?” ad was called “Aaron Burr“. **Bonus Pop Culture Trivia: It was directed by Michael Bay.)

Odom Jr. plays Hamilton’s friend and rival, Aaron Burr, while also serving as the narrator of the story, introducing the audience to the show’s major characters and the time period of the American Revolution.

The Schuyler sisters at a revel with some rebels in Hamilton.

“We were at a revel with some rebels on a hot night…”

The stage itself is bare, which was both surprising and not. I had seen images of the stage setup and so I knew what to expect. But to actually see it, and experience how the cast and ensemble play on it, was eye opening. Look, I’m no theatre snob, but I’ve seen a few West End stage shows in my day. Both The Wizard of Oz and Wicked had big stages, with set dressing and different backdrops, but Hamilton’s set isn’t like that. It’s basic. But that in no way does it a disservice. Much like how Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, and its follow up Nevermind, heralded the coming age of garage grunge with its underproduced sound, Hamilton’s bare set works in its favour, focusing the audience on the action and the characters on stage.

“In New York you can be a new man…”

Eighteen and a half minutes in and the stage is set. We’ve met our hero, his band of merry men, the women in his life, and the antagonist of the piece. It’s a tightly plotted story told (sung?) over the first five songs, and as the rest of the show’s two hour and twenty minute run time play out, you realise what Lin Manuel-Miranda has been able to achieve in this breathless, imaginative, and magnificent show. 

Lin Manuel-Miranda as Alexander Hamilton in the musical Hamilton.


“Breathless” is one way to describe Hamilton. As someone who grew up watching West Side Story, The Wizard of Oz and Hairspray, The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins on VHS, the song-to-song-to-song nature of Hamilton shook me. I was used to musicals with scenes and dialogue in between the music. This had none of that. All of it played out (mostly) like a music video accompaniment to the soundtrack album. That isn’t a complaint, it was just unexpected.

“What did I miss?”

“Imaginative” is another word that, for me at least, perfectly suited Hamilton. There have been countless videos on Lin Manuel-Miranda’s use of rap, R&B, and it’s different styles to tell a story that you wouldn’t traditionally associate with “urban music.” But there is so much about the staging of this show that just blew me away. From Aaron Burr playing both a character and the narrator, to how the show handles inner monologues and asides to the audience, to its fantastic “rewind” and playing with time sequences. Did I already say “breathless?”

James Maddison, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr plot Alexander Hamilton's downfall in Hamilton.

“The man is non-stop…”

Lin Manuel-Miranda is magnificent. His musicality is prodigious. His use of words is nothing short of magic.

“Burr you disgust me.” “Ah so you’ve discussed me.”
“If you could marry a sister you’re rich son.” “Is it a question of ‘if’ Burr, or ‘which one.’”
“We were at a revel with some rebels on a hot night.”

These come backs and rhymes are scattered all over the show. The words are all well put. They are well sung. And they fit perfectly into a story that’s well told. 

“You’ll be back, time will tell…”

None of this should surprise. The soundtrack has been out for 5 years, and Miranda, and all of the original cast have gone on to bigger things. But none of those bigger things are bigger or better than Hamilton. Thank God this groundbreaking piece of art is now forever inshrined on a Disney+ stage recording. Because for those of us with neither the financial means, nor access to a time traveling device, this is the only way we are able to watch this lightning in a bottle moment. And again. Over and over again.

Hamilton round six is in my immediate future.

160 minutes
Director: Thomas Kail
Writer: Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.
Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, and Jonathan Groff.

For a fresh perspective of Disney+’s Hamilfilm, check out Iain McNally’s review here.

Hamilton is now streaming on Disney+.

Bahir likes to review movies because he can watch them at special screenings and not have to interact with large groups of people who may not agree with his idea of what a movie going experience is. Bahir likes jazz, documentaries, Ken Burns, and summer blockbuster movies. He really hopes that the HBO MAX Green Lantern series will help the character be cool again. Also don’t get him started on Jason Momoa’s Aquaman (#NotMyArthurCurry).

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