The musical Hamilton has been a phenomenon but it is only now that the masses will get to see it. Laura Harding meets the original Broadway cast.
It’s hard to overstate the cultural impact and global success of Hamilton.
The musical, which blends hip hop, R&B, pop and traditional showtunes to tell the story of America’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, has been a juggernaut.
It has won Grammys, Tonys, Oliviers and a Pulitzer Prize, while its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Genius Grant, and the original cast recording has been a chart hit.
However, until now, only those within travelling distance of one of the theatres where it’s playing, in London or across the US, and have the patience, luck and (sometimes eye-watering) funds to secure tickets, have been able to witness it first-hand.
That has now changed, as a filmed version of the show, recorded at The Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in June 2016 with the original cast including Miranda as Hamilton, arrives on streaming service Disney+, more than a year ahead of schedule.
“The world turned upside down,” says Miranda, quoting a line from the show as he explains the shift.
“The world changed and I think it took us a while to realise Hamilton wasn’t going to be playing in any theatres live for a long time. It took us a minute to adjust to the new timeline of the world.
“Then we heard from people who said ‘Hey, we hear you have the Hamilton movie. We are all home, please give it to us.’
“We also heard from people who had tickets to see the show somewhere in the world and weren’t able to go, and it’s an incredible gift that Tommy (Kail, the director of the show and film) has been working on this movie for the past few years.
“We always said we wanted to democratise the world seeing this company doing this show and it just felt like a good opportunity and it happened almost exactly on the five-year anniversary that we opened.”
When the show launched, with Barack Obama still in the White House, it made headlines, not just for its creative blending of musical styles and homages to rappers such as Mobb Deep, Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest, but for the diversity of its cast, with a performer of colour occupying every main role.
Five years later and America is very different. It’s hard to ignore the fact that the film is being made available as Black Lives Matter protesters fill the streets and statues of historical figures are toppled.
“It’s been nice to re-examine the show through a different lens,” says Daveed Diggs, who originated the dual roles of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson.
“We were in the midst of Obama’s presidency and now, Lord willing, we are toward the tail end of Trump’s presidency.
“It’s a different lens through which to view the show and I think all art gets to be looked at through the eyes of the times that it is being viewed in but it is significant that it’s coming out right now in the midst of a global pandemic and a global awakening about the long-lasting effects of slavery and of the value of brown bodies.
“And all of these things are baked into the show as well, we are just talking about it through a different lens at the time.
“So I’m excited that it’s coming out now, so that people can use it. It’s nice to see the protest signs that are quoting Hamilton, it’s a good thing.”
The signs he is referring to, featuring lines from the show such as “History has its eyes on you”, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” and “Tomorrow there’ll be more of us”, have been conspicuous as people have taken to the streets around the world following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
For Okieriete Onaodowan, who stars in the dual roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, recent events mean the show seems different to him now.
“It’s changed things,” he says frankly. “After watching George Floyd be murdered, basically, for eight minutes and 46 seconds, it kind of sent me into a tailspin.
“A lot of people felt really helpless, that people that we relied on to protect us are actively targeting us, and one thing this show has done for me is knowing that I’m part of something, telling people to speak out no matter what, to use your voice, to be as loud, to be as obnoxious as you need to be, like Alexander was, be relentless and tell everyone around you ‘This is what I think America should be’, and then also make it happen.
“Go about creating that America through legislation, through laws, through getting involved. So I’m very grateful that I can put myself behind a project that sends that message at a time when systematic racism is finally being recognised, acknowledged and addressed by the country, mostly.”
Renee Elise Goldsberry, who stars as Angelica Schuyler, agrees.
“We are always learning, I call it a progressive revelation and that is what truth always is. Something is born in a time and we are very aware of what was happening in that moment that made it what it is, but then you realise, no, just like a child, it was actually not made for the time it was born in, it was made for what we don’t know, it was made for the future.
“That is beautiful and, with this great honour of being a part of this OG cast, we feel on some level kind of like parents and it’s always teaching us what it is and why it is.
“It’s the same thing I feel when I look at my children, you will tell me what you were made for, and at some point I just need to get out of the way.”
Hamilton is streaming now on Disney+.