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‘Hamilton’ shakes up history on Disney+

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s critically acclaimed Broadway musical finally reached a wider audience when it hit Disney’s streaming service, Disney+ on July 3. 

The show, written, directed, produced and starring Miranda tells the life story of United States Founding Father Alexander Hamilton through the aesthetic of modern popular music styles, such as rap, pop, R&B and reggae. It follows Hamilton’s early days as an upstart intellectual in George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War, moves to Hamilton’s time in government after the war under now President Washington, highlights the period of Hamilton’s life as a civilian including the political scandals that rocked his later life and his death at the hands of longtime rival Aaron Burr, played by Leslie Odom Jr. The filmed version of the live production features the entire original cast from Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton’s sister-in-law, Phillipa Soo as Elizabeth Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife, Daveed Diggs playing both the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, as well as Christopher Jackson as George Washington. 

As far as musicals go, it’s been quite the phenomenon in regard to widespread appeal. The musical has received an outpour of praise and support since the original production’s premiere in 2015, both from clamoring theatre goers and casual Broadway listeners. The addition to Disney+ was of course an attempt to ride this wave of support, and news flash: it’s worked. 

The musical has not been without its controversies. Miranda employed the technique of “race blind casting,” casting actors of various races to play historical figures who were not the race of the actor. Many people have found this upsetting or an attempt to introduce political correctness into historical education. However, “Hamilton” does not claim to be an educational tool. Hamilton is a piece of entertainment. That is not to say there is nothing to learn from watching the musical, but no one should take the events of the musical as historical fact. There are a few key twists and turns that make it evidently clear that Miranda’s primary concern was not historical accuracy but creating an adaptation of history that everyone can relate to. For example, Elizabeth Schuyler has a song where she talks about her responses to the Reynolds Pamphlet, released by Hamilton about an extramarital affair he had before his enemies could do the same. Schuyler’s actual opinions on the Reynolds Pamphlets are unknown and so Miranda uses this opportunity to better explore the characters rather than stick harshly to the historical narrative. 

One facet that is quite effective is Miranda’s use of the actors who play Hamilton’s early friends to portray his later enemies or in the case of his son, source of tragedy. The actors who play Revolutionary War heroes John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and the Marquis de Lafayette are later cast in the second act as Phillip Hamilton, Hamilton’s son who perishes in a duel to defend his father’s honor, James Madison, one of Hamilton’s staunchest critics and adversaries in government, and Thomas Jefferson, the president who attempted to smear Hamilton out of government, respectively. Seeing the reflexive nature of these actors in a long scale form focused on one character is quite striking as it shows that Hamilton saw all of the characteristics of people, not just the good or the bad. 

Overall, “Hamilton” is a great watch, and for those that have Disney+, it’s a definite recommend both as a fun night in or quasi-historical movie. “Hamilton” receives an A-rating. 

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