Arts

Hamilton remains as powerful on screen as it was on stage

Damon Smith enjoys a front row seat at a filmed live version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's award-winning musical history lesson Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton
Damon Smith

HAMILTON (12, 162 mins) Musical/Drama/Romance. Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr, Phillipa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, Okieriete Onaodowan, Jonathan Groff. Director: Thomas Kail.

Released: July 3 (streaming on Disney+)

EARLY in the first act of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical, Schuyler sisters Peggy and Eliza – who will go on to marry American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton – trill, "Look around, look around at how/Lucky we are to be alive right now".

In the current climate of nervous isolation, the siblings' exultation resonates with gratitude-soaked new meaning far beyond the aisles of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York where director Thomas Kail captured the original Broadway cast before their final bows in 2016.

A prime seat in the stalls of the London West End staging of Hamilton demands a king's ransom.

A subscription to the Disney+ streaming service costs considerably less and guarantees the best seat in the house for a film that allows Miranda's music and densely packed rat-a-tat lyrics to speak loud and clear.

Shot in front of a cheering crowd, Miranda's musical history lesson blends rap, hip hop, R&B, jazz, blues and classic Broadway traditions to chart the rise of Alexander Hamilton (Miranda), who describes himself in the song My Shot as "a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal".

Over the course of two acts punctuated by a 60-second intermission, Hamilton raises a glass to freedom with the Marquis de Lafayette (Daveed Diggs), Hercules Mulligan (Okieriete Onaodowan) and John Laurens (Anthony Ramos), and becomes right-hand man to George Washington (Christopher Jackson) during the Revolutionary War.

Calculating political rival Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr) repeatedly challenges Hamilton as he gambles his marriage to wife Eliza (Phillipa Soo) to spearhead the battle against the British.

Kail collected almost every glittering honour for his stage direction and that intimate knowledge of each emotional beat reaps rewards.

Cameras predominantly glide across the front of the stage or linger in the darkened auditorium to savour David Korins' rotating two-storey stage and Andy Blankenbuehler's regimented, muscular choreography.

The first lingering close-up is Miranda's face as he introduces himself and with subsequent crescendos, we are close enough to see beads of sweat glistening on brows, a tear of anguish coursing down a grieving mother's cheek or spittle trembling on Jonathan Groff's lip as he makes a show-stopping entrance as petulant, preening King George III.

Fixed overhead shots of the stage are visually arresting but seldom enrich the narrative except for the song The Reynolds Pamphlet, which captures a confetti-like cascade of accusations of marital betrayal as they literally swirl around the title character.

Prefaced by a heartfelt introduction from Miranda and Kail in lockdown, Hamilton is an electrifying encapsulation of the theatre staging that comes satisfyingly close to replicating the exhilarating shared experience of live performance.

Snappy one-liners warrant giggles and a ripple of applause greets Angelica Schuyler (Renee Elise Goldsberry) when she passes judgment on the notion that all men are created equal by adding "When I meet Thomas Jefferson/I'm a' compel him to include woman in the sequel."

The ensemble cast strains every sinew, tears visibly glistening on lower eye lids as political machinations and bold ambition cleave apart marriages and spatter the pages of history with fresh blood.

How lucky we are.

RATING: four stars

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