SALT LAKE CITY — Thomas Kail, the director of the “Hamilton” film, introduces the new Disney Plus film version by saying that “Hamilton” speaks to the moment in which it was created and it speaks to the moment of now.
So much has been written and said about what the play means for this particular moment in United States history — like understanding the barriers between the haves and have-nots or understanding the racial divides that cut through our country. Immigration, racial tensions and oppression are all themes found in the production, and they’re topics covered widely by critics since the beginning of its original Broadway run.
The newest rendition of “Hamilton” — a version that appears as a film on the Disney Plus streaming service, beginning on July 3 — also speaks to all of us right now during the coronavirus pandemic. An award-winning musical with cultural impact is now readily available at our fingertips. Something that was once seen as a luxury event for anyone who could score a ticket is now something we can access for a free trial or monthly price.
The Disney Plus version of “Hamilton” not only speaks to the cultural divide of our country, but it shines a positive light, reminding us of America’s moral promise amid a dark and gloomy world. The play reminds us that a beautiful future can be created from a violent and troubled past. Like Hamilton himself, your past doesn’t always define you. You can use it to create a more perfect future.
There’s no denying that you think about America when you watch “Hamilton.” That’s sort of the point of the production. You see the history of America retold through Black actors and people of color. Daveed Diggs plays Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette, Christopher Jackson plays George Washington, and Leslie Odom Jr. plays Aaron Burr.
It’s thought-provoking and challenging, raising questions that force you to contemplate your own feelings about the country, and about our country’s history. You bring your own personal experience. However you see the world will stick with you as you see the story unfold.
Through rap lyrics, R&B and pop-like tunes, we learn Hamilton’s story. We understand his journey as he tries to build America and feuds with Burr. Anyone interested in a brief history lesson receives it through the play.
But there’s something more important at play here. Watching the Disney Plus version of America’s early days reminds you that you’re watching this during the present — a time when there’s the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide protests due to racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism. Modern America is, well, a mess. The film comes at a time when America seeks to fulfill its moral promise. We’re seeking to be a stronger America. Looking back at the country’s origins, we see the promise of what America could be, what America aspires to be and what America could still be.
Right now, we’re mostly staying home, trying to stay healthy and safe from the novel coronavirus. Despite that, technology has connected us to the beauty of the outside world. Someone without a season pass to any theaters might not ever have the chance to watch “Hamilton” live. The musical was supposed to return to Salt Lake City at the Eccles Theater for the 2020-21 season. So maybe one could have snagged tickets. But it would have been actors who were not in the original cast. Not the original cast. We see the original cast here in a performance from 2016 — right in the prime of the show’s production.
Disney Plus awarded us all a chance to see the original show, just as it was originally intended to be seen — and on the weekend of Independence Day. We weren’t supposed to see this show until Oct. 15, 2021, when it was going to be released in theaters. And showing the musical now — at this desperate time in our country’s history — is a step toward rebuilding America to be what Hamilton always wanted to see.
We connect more intimately with the characters. Watching high from the balcony doesn’t connect you as well with the main characters as this version does. I’ve never seen “Hamilton” in person. But like the film versions of “Rent” and “Les Miserables,” drawing a personal connection to the performers helps create a stronger narrative, connecting us with the characters and their beliefs.
It’s something we never would have seen before the pandemic. We can gather our families, log in to our streaming services and watch experiences we never would have seen before. We can hear the beautiful ballads and the pin-point rap lyrics between each song. We can hear the tragedy of Hamilton’s death. We can hear that ever-so harsh question: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”
What question defines our modern times now more than that one? Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story? We’re asking this on a daily basis as we confront the issues of our present.
Seeing this play on my television screen gave me hope for a better future. “Hamilton” shows us a promise of a better America. It shows us the delight of how successful, bright and shining America can be if it lives up to its moral promise and we work to create something better. The musical shows us what we can all aspire to be — creators, thinkers and believers in a stronger country. We can live, laugh and love. We can come together to create something better.
Disney did the right thing releasing this film. A divided America needed to see this on the same weekend as we celebrate our independence.
Correction: Thomas Kail is the director of the “Hamilton” film. Alex Lacamoire was the musical director.