Disney+ ‘Hamilton’ is better and yet no match for live
Like most people with access to a Disney + account, I spent part of my Fourth of July weekend watching Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton.”
I’ve listened to the original cast recording many times, and I saw the touring production last summer in Cleveland with excellent seats (some days it’s good to be the working press).
However, getting to see the entire show with the original cast is something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see.
It was glorious.
I’ve heard Daveed Diggs’ rapid-fire delivery as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, but watching his verbal dexterity in action only added to my appreciation. And maybe it just was getting to see him, but it felt like Jonathan Groff’s performance had evolved since the cast album was recorded. It was more broad and comedic than I expected, and there were bits of visual humor that no audio-only presentation could capture.
The close-ups in Thomas Kail’s direction added nuance and made me aware of details that went unnoticed from my eighth row seat in Cleveland. Check out some of the stories available online about ensemble member Ariana DeBose and her role as The Bullet. I’d be lying if I said I realized the character’s importance when I saw it live, but the foreshadowing with the character jumped out watching it on television, even before I saw the online stories.
At the same time, I wasn’t as riveted as I was when I saw it in Cleveland. Sitting in a recliner with the sun streaming through the window during a late morning / early-afternoon viewing with my wife isn’t the same as sitting in a dark theater with more than 2,500 people experiencing it at the same time. There’s an energy to live performance, an intangible quality and a sense of danger. At a live performance, ANYTHING can happen at ANY time, whether it’s a slip or a verbal slip-up or a perfect moment of connection between two cast members that previously had eluded them.
If there was a mistake in one of the performances Kail filmed for the movie, he simply could use the better take. And if one of those unexpected moments made it into the final cut, it now is part of the permanent record, something that will be there in the exact same way at the exact same time whenever I watch it.
Television can’t match the live experience, but I also understand the reluctance of other productions to follow the lead of “Hamilton,” especially if they still are profitable on the road.
I wouldn’t trade having seen “Hamilton” live once, but I might hesitate to pay $200 or more to see it a second time with a touring cast when Miranda, Diggs, Groff, Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom Jr., Renee Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo and the rest of the original cast is available 24 / 7 at my convenience.
Disney + wasn’t as engrossing as watching it happen in front of me at the State Theatre. But that recliner was a lot more comfortable than any theater seat I’ve found. I definitely had more leg room.
The touring cast in Cleveland was very, very good. But Miranda wrote some of these roles for actors he knew and tailored them to their talents. The guy playing Lafayette and Jefferson in Cleveland couldn’t match Diggs’ flow live. I’ve seen the same criticism of other actors who’ve tried to follow Diggs in the role.
The actor playing George Washington was excellent, but he lacked the physical stature that Jackson brought to the role of the Revolutionary War commander and first president.
It’s unlikely there ever will be a better cast for “Hamilton” than the one playing on Disney + right now. And a nose-bleed seat for “Hamilton” in New York or on the road cost more than a year’s subscription to the streaming service.
Hopefully, live theater will return soon, and theater fans will have the opportunity to wrestle with that choice.
Andy Gray is the entertainment editor of Ticket. Write to him at agray@ tribtoday.com