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The New Yorker: All About the Hamiltons

 

Born out of wedlock, raised in poverty in St. Croix, abandoned by his father, and orphaned by his mother as a child, Hamilton transplanted himself as an adolescent to a New York City filled with revolutionary fervor. An eloquent and prolific writer, he was the author of two-thirds of the Federalist Papers; after serving as George Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, he became America’s first Treasury Secretary. Later, Hamilton achieved the dubious distinction of being at the center of the nation’s first political sex scandal, after an extramarital affair became public. He never again held office, and before reaching the age of fifty he was dead, killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, the Vice-President, after a personal dispute escalated beyond remediation.
 
Miranda saw Hamilton’s relentlessness, brilliance, linguistic dexterity, and self-destructive stubbornness through his own idiosyncratic lens. It was, he thought, a hip-hop story, an immigrant’s story. 
 
[snip]
 
Rooted in hip-hop, but also encompassing R. & B., jazz, pop, Tin Pan Alley, and the choral strains of contemporary Broadway, the show is an achievement of historical and cultural reimagining. In Miranda’s telling, the headlong rise of one self-made immigrant becomes the story of America. Hamilton announces himself in a signature refrain: “Hey, yo, I’m just like my country / I’m young, scrappy and hungry / And I’m not throwing away my shot,” and these words could equally apply to his dramatizer. Miranda has used as his Twitter avatar Hamilton’s portrait on the ten-dollar bill, slyly tweaked to incorporate Miranda’s dark eyes, humorously set mouth, and goatee.
 
Consider me interested, although the lyrics quoted in the above snippit are a bit on-the-nose.
 
 
Here's the performance alluded to in the first part of the article:
 
Edited by NBooth

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The New York Times

 

During the first half of the 20th century, the American songbook was often dictated by Broadway tunesmiths. But by the late 1950s, songs from musicals had become a quaint breed apart from the songs that America danced to and sang in the shower. And though many major talents have tried to close that gap (including Mr. Miranda in his amiable but less thoroughly realized Broadway hit “In the Heights”), Spotify-friendly tunes have tended to show up only in those cumbersome recycling centers known as jukebox musicals.

 
But, lo and behold, there are songs throughout “Hamilton” that could be performed more or less as they are by Drake or Beyoncé or Kanye. And there’s none of the distancing archness found in those recent (and excellent) history musicals at the Public, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Here Lies Love.” “Hamilton” isn’t cool; it’s utterly sincere, but without being judgmental or pious. And its numbers come across as natural and inevitable expressions of people living in late-18th-century America.

 

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The New Yorker:

 

[Miranda] doesn’t have much feeling for his female characters; for the most part, they’re plot points in silk. (“Hamilton” has an almost all-male production team.) This was also a problem with Miranda’s Tony-winning 2008 show “In the Heights,” which centered on his alter ego, Usnavi: the other characters, all too “colorful” by half, were just fleeting stars in his galaxy. “Hamilton” is the work of a more mature artist, for sure, but one who’s fearful of being kept out of the white boys’ club of the American musical. By burying his trickster-quick take on race, immigrant ambition, colonialism, and masculinity under a commonplace love story in the second half of the show, Miranda hides what he most needs to display: his talent.

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The JuntoCast--an early American history podcast--has two episodes that might be interesting to anyone who liked (or didn't like) the musical:

Ep. 20: Alexander Hamilton

Extra! Ep. 3: The Hamilton Moment (this one dedicated to discussing the musical)

I revisit the musical occasionally on Spotify and get a kick out of it, though some of the lyrics are still on-the-nose. "Remind You of My Love" is a hoot. I'll certainly be trying to grab tickets if the touring company ever comes to Birmingham, Alabama (which is not as unlikely as it might seem--the BJCC does a reasonable job of attracting shows).

Edited by NBooth

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So, two of my kids and I totally hopped on the Hamilton bandwagon back in 2015 or 2016, whenever it was we got our hands on the soundtrack.  We listened to the music obsessively, and I read Chernow's biography (later moving on to his excellent bios of Washington and Grant; the guy's a helluva storyteller).  In 2017, we planned our vacation in part so we could see the traveling Hamilton show in San Francisco.

I'd love to hear Evan's critique as our resident musical expert (and others, too, of course), but for me, the musical is a near-perfect thing.  It doesn't stray far from the true history (Hamilton's life was a short, wild thing, and he was as influential as the musical makes him out to be).  The lyrics are dense, witty, and provocative.  The choreography and lighting of the onstage performance are wonderful.  And as a project of American optimism - in short supply these days - its non-white casting and aspirational qualities are most welcome.  The articles cited above critique its lack of female representation, but I don't buy into that - Eliza and Angelica are strong characters in a substantially men's-only society, and it's fitting that Eliza gets the final solo in the musical.  I feel the story drags a bit in the second act, but the songs from the Stay Alive reprise to the end of the play are then uniformly fabulous.

So, it's pleased me to no end that Lin-Manuel decided to drop the filmed version of his musical onto the Disney channel and forego a theatrical release.  And Thomas Kail, the original NYC director, did a solid job of lensing it.  He isn't overly busy with switching camera angles and wisely emphasizes wide shots to enhance the "you are there" illusion of watching a stage show, reserving close-ups for the solos and high-impact moments.  


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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My wife and I celebrated our anniversary just a month before the pandemic took hold by traveling to NYC to catch the show at the Richard Rodgers... and it was probably the most unifyingly impacted we've ever been by a piece of storytelling. 

Also... the timing of everything could not have possibly aligned more perfectly for Disney. As soon as it was first announced that Broadway was shutting down, my wife and I were talking about how "it would be insane for Disney execs not to push for an early release on their shiny new streaming platform."

6 hours ago, Andrew said:

And Thomas Kail, the original NYC director, did a solid job of lensing it.  He isn't overly busy with switching camera angles and wisely emphasizes wide shots to enhance the "you are there" illusion of watching a stage show, reserving close-ups for the solos and high-impact moments.  

Hmm. I disagree with this, and I've spent most of the day today trying to fully parse out why. 

Even with braced expectations (I winced everytime Lin or Thomas would talk in an interview about how the movie both "gave you the best seat in the house" but was also "cinematic"),  I found so many of the editing/camera angle decisions to be baffling. There is LOTS of cutting. I can relate to what the temptation probably felt like for the editor with at least ten different camera angles to play with and wanting to match the energy of the show, but my impression was that at least half of the cuts were unmotivated, which resulted in a jarring experience. I wonder how much the editing team was pressured to include the steadicam-on-stage-with-the-actors shots because those are what look really good in the trailer, even though they don't serve the experience of the production (and risk being even more jarring because keen-eyed viewers can tell they were taken from a different performance).

That being said, I can't imagine the opportunity to capture a musical production on camera and not utilize even the occasional closeup, but everytime we see one (with all the glory of high definition sweat, unsubtle performance and harsh lighting) it's a reminder of all the ways that storytelling tools designed for live theater do not translate well to cinema. 

Edited by Jeremy Ratzlaff

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Interesting.  Maybe it's just a matter of degree: I feared there'd be way more cutting, and I appreciated the restraint in holding off from a closeup until Miranda first sings "Alexander Hamilton."  Subsequent closeups seemed judiciously chosen to me - e.g., the close of "My Shot," in lengthy solos, etc.  I do agree that the three or so overhead shots were indulgent, and a couple of shots from the rear were pointless, but those felt like the exception, not the norm.  


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I really hoped to love this, and I definitely think it would work better if one were at a live performance. I wrote a review for Letterboxd, which is linked below.

It's a sprawling, messy musical, and neither of those things are necessarily bad; indeed, they could give a kinetic energy to a performance one's at, which I hope would be the case, but between the cutting, closeups of stage makeup, and general degree of separation that the camera inherently caused, I found the frenetic energy of the show more tiring than thrilling.

https://letterboxd.com/evan_c/film/hamilton-2020/


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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6 hours ago, Evan C said:

I really hoped to love this, and I definitely think it would work better if one were at a live performance. I wrote a review for Letterboxd, which is linked below.

It's a sprawling, messy musical, and neither of those things are necessarily bad; indeed, they could give a kinetic energy to a performance one's at, which I hope would be the case, but between the cutting, closeups of stage makeup, and general degree of separation that the camera inherently caused, I found the frenetic energy of the show more tiring than thrilling.

https://letterboxd.com/evan_c/film/hamilton-2020/

This is exactly what I was very afraid of.

Part of my own anticipation is that I had been excited to be able to recommend the "movie" version to so many friends and family that never had the opportunity to see the live performance, but after actually watching it for myself and feeling similarly exhausted, I have not mentioned it to anyone once... and in fact I rather hope they don't see it.

It's such a massive shame that it was hyped up the way it was. It is, in some ways, actually a lesser experience than the bootleg camcorder versions that have been floating around the internet for years.

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