In the five years since Hamilton’s debut, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical has saturated popular culture to the point of parody. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know the show’s opening lines, or doesn’t have “The Schuyler Sisters,” “My Shot” or “You’ll Be Back” floating through their head at least once a week. All this is to say, it could be easily argued that the show’s fresh, sharp take on American history has dulled somewhat by repetition. It’s still good, it’s just not new anymore.
The version of the show streaming Friday on Disney+ isn’t that surprising. It’s exactly as advertised, a recorded version of a live performance. However, its timing, on a Fourth of July weekend in the middle of ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, is not-so-quietly revolutionary. Hamilton’s multi-layered message of history and inclusion is as necessary as it’s ever been. Current events give this recorded 2016 performance an extra dose of context that makes it crackle back to life.
Hamilton adapts Ron Chernow’s biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton (played by Miranda), and recounts Hamilton’s role in the American experiment, as well as his tumultuous relationship with Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), who ultimately killed Hamilton in a duel. Miranda gives the story relevance through casting performers of color in all the main roles; Jonathan Groff’s gloriously daffy King George III is the only white performer. The showtunes are the other fresh element, a rainbow mix of hip-hop and pop music. Characters’ singing and rapping styles are tuned to their personalities—Hamilton’s wife, Eliza Schuyler, and her sisters sound like an R&B girl group, George III sings dated-but-fun british invasion pop, and Revolutionary spy Hercules Mulligan performs Busta Rhymes-inflected gangster rap.
For those familiar with the show’s songs, but who haven’t seen them performed, the filmed version brings some welcome nuance. There’s not much connective tissue between songs, and the plot breezes right past, despite a running time of over two and a half hours. However, getting to actually see the interplay between Odom’s Burr (who also serves as the show’s narrator) and Miranda’s Hamilton—not just hear it on a cast recording—adds a great deal of complexity. It takes on an element of jealousy that recalls Amadeus, with Burr as the striving, frustrated Salieri to Hamilton’s blazing, effortlessly talented Mozart.
Of course, the point of Hamilton isn’t just “history but make it cool.” At its heart is the message that the story of America (and its present) doesn’t belong solely to rich, white men. America is constantly evolving, built on the contributions of a diverse array of people, all of whom deserve the opportunity to make their mark on the world. That message still comes through loud and clear, perhaps even more so now that the musical can be viewed in homes across the country (and not just by the lucky few who can afford a ticket). In the middle of a moment where we’re surrounded by reminders of America at its worst, Hamilton is a welcome reminder of what we should be at our best: a diverse, colorful, idealistic world of open possibilities.
“Hamilton” streams Friday on Disney+.