Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton comes to Disney+ July 3, as a performance recorded live 2016 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
“Theaters struggle with the notion of accessibility,” Miranda explains to Rebecca Rubin. “We had our front two rows for 10 bucks via lottery. We did extra shows out in the street for people. So we prioritized two things: One, we said, ‘It’s a crime if kids can’t see this show.’ And then it was, ‘How do we preserve the lightning in the bottle that is these actors in this moment?”
“We were conscious that if you film anything, it changes the equation,” adds director Thomas Kail. “It’s not a negative impact, it just changes the thing. This was as close as we could get to trying to collect as much of the energy that existed in the room at the Richard Rodgers in New York City.”
Shot over three days, the film is culled from two live performances and extra footage without an audience for increased coverage. “The cameras were positioned in the audience, the audience sat around them,” the director tells Corey Chichizola. “All the cameras were in the house or off stage. And we just ran the show as we always did.”
“We shot 13 or 14 of the numbers, there’s 46 total, outside of those two live shows,” he continues. “So we had a few numbers where we were able to get on stage with a Steadicam or have a camera on a crane, or on a dolly. Just to give a different feel to some of the proximity we can have with the company.”
By 2016 the cast had been performing the show for a year, enabling a non-interventionist approach to directing the movie. “They knew exactly what to do,” Kail says to Rubin. “My job was to not get in the way of that. Another thing that was quite different is when you’re editing, no one was ever saying it has to be shorter. We were not solving story problems, so that part of your brain is completely freed up.”
The film preserves the full theater experience, the only difference being Disney’s removal of some of the swearing in order to receive a PG-13 rating. Miranda confirmed on Twitter: “You’re getting the whole show, every note & scene, & a 1-minute countdown clock during intermission (bathroom!)… We have 3 ‘f***s in our show [so] I literally gave two f***s so the kids could see it.”
Although they won’t be able to see it in movie theaters as was originally intended, Miranda remains optimistic. “We hope the possibility still exists and that once movie theaters are open again, there’s a world in which this plays in movie theaters,” he tells Rubin. “But you also have to acknowledge the timeline of the reality you live in. The timeline we live in, there’s no live theater anywhere. I’m just thrilled that we have this giant joyous reminder of how special live theater is in the form of this Hamilton movie.”
Miranda notes the ongoing political relevance of Hamilton, which has only increased since the film’s production back in 2016: “One of the accidental reasons Hamilton resonates in different ways is because it brushes up against the origin of the United States. I don’t believe it’s a very political show, but I do believe that the only political insight I had was that every problem at the founding is a problem we’re still having. Every fight we had at the founding is a fight we’re still having. That’s a source of frustration and of comfort.
“The lyrics about slavery in the show, as we were having a national conversation about the effects of slavery and systemic racism and white supremacy, they hit different in this moment than they did then,” he continues. “John Laurens saying, ‘We’ll never be free until we end slavery’ hits different now than it did maybe five years ago. The reaction in the audience to ‘Immigrants, we get the job done,’ which was a laugh line that became a defiant screen line under the Trump administration. Because it’s a conversation about America, good and bad, I think there’s always going to be stuff that resonates.”