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'Hamilton' review: A revolution in rhyme

Our review is a tribute in verse to Lin-Manuel Miranda's stage sensation 'Hamilton', streaming now on Disney+ Hotstar

The cast of 'Hamilton', with Lin-Manuel Miranda (centre)
The cast of 'Hamilton', with Lin-Manuel Miranda (centre)

To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: We hold these truths to be self evident /that all musicals are not created equal. A man who failed to be President / finds pride of place alongside Broadway’s barber, fiddler and singing nun: / Now out on Disney+ Hotstar, arrives the sensational Hamilton.

History as you never knew: black-washed and vivid, a mic-dropping beast, / A 160-minute epic (told via hip-hop and ballad) about a man unappeased. / Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who wanted to do more than found, / wanted more for his America, so much more that he remained uncrowned.

Until — that is — Lin Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican poet (who writes / like he’s running out of time) chose to hero this Treasury Secretary so white / that he married into a slave-owning family, yet cast himself to play the part / and, replacing caucasians with persons of colour and rhythm, gave ‘em heart.

The story is an inspiration: Hamilton was born a poor and wretched orphan / who rose up, freed America, built its financial structures — but it’s more fun / than it sounds, thanks to lovesongs and villains and terrific tracks about duels, / plus cameos by American icons whom Miranda (name-droppingly) uses as fuel.

Jefferson, Washington, Burr crowd around the promise of New York City, / Miranda’s Hamilton is drunk on the exuberance of his own verbosity. / Plots are hatched, friends and foes killed, letters written and blood spilled, / While performers take on essay-length songs, showing off serious skills.

The very finest is Renée Elise Goldsberry who plays Angelica Schuyler, / Hamilton’s fiercely articulate sister-in-law — an all-round beguiler. / In any another world she may have seemed yet another Austen spinster, / but Goldsberry’s smartness burns hotter, it takes worlds to convince her.

Hamilton’s nemesis Aaron Burr advises him to “Talk less, smile more." / Played by Leslie Odom Jr, he’s an outsider committed to keeping score. / He gets the best song — The Room Where It Happens — one that reminds / how history leaves you, me and ancient scholars, all guessing blind.

Miranda, the charismatic creator, proves as prolific as his subject, / Singing nearly every song — there are over 20 — an alarming prospect. / As both Lafayette and Jefferson, Daveed Diggs is so groovy its absurd. / Jonathan Groff (from Mindhunter) is delightful as King George III.

Now, the writing, one must confess, is not quite Stephen Sondheim. / (Some overwrought rhymes are, in fact, about as clunky as this line). / Give in to the energy and the flair; let slide the choruses patchy. / It takes a helluva lot of zing to make Congressional debate catchy.

Today, as statues of slavers are felled, where should Hamilton stand, if at all? / His legacy is not as clean as Miranda would like; the playwright has softballed. / Is it fair for Diggs to dazzle as Jefferson? Is that like a Jew playing Hitler? / We must celebrate art that makes us question, over art that keeps us brittler.

Is Hamilton too long? Too loud? Yes. But also: too overbearing? Too proud? / Hallelujah! Revolutions are messy, it takes heat and blood to rouse a crowd. / The greatest of this show’s many triumphs could be its refusal to rein it in. / As Burr would attest, history isn’t made by those who choose fence-sitting.

We need history to confront us into action. We need it to strike, to be violent. / To invoke a different Miranda: we no longer have the Right to remain silent.

Stream of Stories is a column on what to watch online. Raja Sen is a film critic and the author of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a children’s adaptation of The Godfather. He tweets at @rajasen

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