Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage musical Hamilton has been hugely popular since its Broadway debut in 2015. Based on the life of American politician and economist Alexander Hamilton, the stage was inspired by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography. Besides selling out venues across the United States of America and London’s West End theatre, Hamilton has won multiple Drama Desk Awards, Tony Awards, a Grammy Award, and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize of Drama.
A working-class immigrant, Hamilton was a key aide to the first American president George Washington. He helped reform and ratify the American constitution, and was a strong advocate of nationalised banking, designing Washington’s economic policies as the first American Secretary of the Treasury.
However, his illustrious political career was derailed by a sex scandal. His fierce disagreements with prominent politicians of the time, including the second president Thomas Jefferson, contributed to his death. He was mortally wounded by a gunshot from his longtime political rival Aaron Burr, who had challenged him to a duel.
Director Thomas Kail’s filmed version of the production from 2016 features the original cast, which includes Miranda in the titular role. Hamilton was set to open in theatres on October 15, 2021. However, the lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to live productions across the globe. The Hamilton film will be released online on July 3, a day before the United States’s day of independence. It will be available for streaming in India on Disney+ Hotstar.
“We always wanted to democratise the world seeing this company doing this show, and it just felt like a good opportunity,” Miranda said in a cast-and-crew digital press conference on June 16. Kail added that the intention was to “lower the barrier to entry” in the absence of all live performances.
Daveed Deegs, who plays Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, agreed and pointed out “how prohibitive Broadway was for a lot of people”.
Among the highlights of Miranda’s musical is its mixed-race cast and eclectic soundtrack, which combines hip-hop, R&B, pop, and other genres. Prominent American historical figures who were white were played by black, brown and Asian actors in a bid to highlight America’s racial diversity and emphasise the contributions of immigrants. Miranda himself is of Puerto Rican descent.
“The diversity of this country can be claimed by all of the people that created it,” said Renee Elise Goldsberry, who plays Hamilton’s sister-in-law. “That’s one of the things, one of the many things this show celebrates.”
Phillipa Soo, born to a Chinese-American father, earned a 2016 Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth. “My favorite thing about the post-Hamilton experience has been the amount of young people, of young people of color, or young women, young Asian women who have approached me and said, oh my gosh, thank you. It is so wonderful to see someone that looks like me,” she said.
Okieriete Onaodowan, who is of Nigerian heritage, plays Hercules Mulligan, an American spy during the country’s war for independence, and the fourth president James Madison. For him, Hamilton is significant to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’m most excited to see how this affects young, black people today with what’s going on after George Floyd’s death in the streets and protesting,” Onaodowan said. “I like the fact that on our show, the way he fought back was through legislation, through change, you know, through writing. So I’m very excited to see how this inspires this movement.”
The first public performance of material from the Hamilton project took place in 2009 at the White House. The multi-hyphenate Miranda rapped an early version of the Hamilton title track, which charted the protagonist’s legacy in American history, before Barack Obama and his guests. The well-received performance paved the way for the musical, which was presented in its final form six years later.
In between, Miranda wrote music and lyrics for another hit musical, In The Heights, which has been adapted as a film by Disney. It will be released in 2021. As a lyricist-composer and actor, Miranda has contributed to several Disney films, which include Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Moana (2016).
The Hamilton film was shot across three days during June, 2016. “I think what we tried to do is embrace the love we have for being in the theatre, and the love we have for the theatre, but also take some of the cinematic techniques that have been developed over the last, you know, 100 years and try to apply them to a form that I think the musical can support that,” Kail said.
Miranda observed, “This might be the best-rehearsed movie of all time, outside of maybe like certain David Fincher scenes. I don’t know another movie cast that got to do like literally hundreds, if not thousands, of performances before the cameras went on.”