For someone credited with creating the billion dollar franchise that is Hamilton, the record-setting Broadway musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda wears the hat lightly.
As he pulls up a chair to discuss Hamilton — a live recording of the Broadway musical that is releasing as a film on Disney+ Hotstar on July 3 — over Zoom, he occupies the immediate focus of dozens of journalists from across the globe, though he is joined by the rest of the original cast and crew from the production.
“The world turned upside down, and I think it took us a while to realise Hamilton wasn’t going to be playing in any theatres live… in our five productions or in London (West End). It took us a minute to adjust to the new timeline of the world,” says the 40-year-old American multi-hyphenate artiste.
Since debuting on Broadway in 2015, Hamilton turned into a trendsetter, breaking several records on its way to critical and commercial acclaim.
It tells the story of one of the USA’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, and has artistes of colour portray historical figures: like Daveed Diggs playing Thomas Jefferson and Renée Elise Goldsberry playing Angelica Schuyler. Miranda himself plays Alexander Hamilton.
- Hamilton, the musical, was nominated for 16 Tony Awards in 2016 eventually winning 11 of them.
- It was the first single-author show to be awarded a Tony in 20 years since Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent (1996). It was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama while Hamilton’s best-selling cast album earned a Grammy.
- Hamilton played on Broadway, London’s West End and also did several tours across the US until shows had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 outbreak.
- According to Forbes, on Broadway alone, Hamilton has so far raked in over $600 million. The record revenue ensured Miranda figured in Forbes’ 2020 list of the highest earning celebrities.
- In February 2020, Disney announced it paid $75 million for the film’s distribution rights. Although it was initially pegged for release in October 2021, Disney advanced the date to July 3, 2020 to coincide with USA’s 244th ‘Fourth of July’ independence day observance.
For Miranda, Hamilton premiering on a streaming platform is a way for millions of people, who were priced out of a live show on Broadway and other theatre productions, to access the musical. Co-star Daveed Diggs agrees.
“One of the things that we were always running up against on Broadway is how prohibitive it is for a lot of people… So, it makes me feel good that this show is going to be seen by a lot of people,” says Diggs.
In fact, such was the demand for a ticket that it sold for as high as $849, which made Hamilton the costliest show to watch on Broadway. Inflated prices were attributed to the resale market run by scalpers.
For Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr, the premiere on Disney+ Hotstar signifies “the closing of a loop”. The actor recalls growing up not watching Broadway shows due to expensive tickets.
“The fact that this show is going to live on and be preserved in this way means quite a bit,” he says.
Director Thomas Kail says that capturing Hamilton in such a format is all about “honouring” the work of the company.
“We tried to embrace the love we have for theatre but also take some of the cinematic techniques and apply them to the musical,” he says, adding that the live recording was shot from June 26-28 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway.
Certain sequences have also been shot without a live audience being present. “This might be the best rehearsed movie of all time…,” Miranda chips in, and laughs. “Outside of certain David Fincher scenes. I don’t know another movie cast that got to do like literally hundreds, if not thousands, of performances before the cameras went on,” he says.
Miranda, whose previous Broadway production, In the Heights, is being adapted into a movie-musical starring actor-singer Anthony Ramos, who is also part of Hamilton’s cast, and which is set for release in June 2021, adds: “This [film] is better than the best seat in the house at Hamilton. This is a seat no one else could have been granted. Tommy (Thomas Kail) very deliberately breaks the proscenium in places and it is really thrilling. It honours the incredible work of our choreographer and ensemble members who were like this unit unto themselves.”