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'Hamilton' on Disney+: Everything You Need to Know (and We Want to Say)

Date: Jun 30, 2020

All about the live stage capture of the Lin-Manuel Miranda juggernaut, which premieres this Friday


Ever since theatre's biggest cheerleader, Lin-Manuel Miranda, announced we would be able to watch the original Broadway production of Hamilton from home this summer, we've been counting down the days until its release. This Friday, July 3 beginning at 3 a.m. ET, Disney+ subscribers will be able to see the "live capture" of the musical, which was shot in June 2016 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre when creator Miranda was starring in the title role alongside the entire original principal cast: Tony winners Daveed Diggs, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Leslie Odom, Jr., as well as Christopher Jackson, Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Okieriete Onaodowan and Anthony Ramos. As of this writing, Hamilton will remain available indefinitely on the streaming service, and you'll be able to watch it as many times as you'd like (my family is ready to set a record!). For the first time in a long while, we realize how lucky we are to be alive right now. The film was originally scheduled to be released theatrically in 2021, but with everyone, including Disney, hard-hit by the pandemic, the decision was made to give Hamilton lovers this gift… for a $6.99 per month fee, of course. (You can cancel anytime, even after just one month.)

Now that you know the where, when and how much, what else is left to say? Plenty. As a proud Hamilfan, I decided to dish about this momentous musical milestone with my TDF Digital Strategy coworker Tyler Riley. How will a show about the birth of our nation play at this painful and pivotal moment in our history?

Elyse Orecchio: Remember the pre-pandemic days when you had to be rich, connected or really lucky with the lottery to see Hamilton on Broadway? Not anymore. One of the few upsides to this health crisis is that Hamilton is coming to a screen near you. I never got to see it on Broadway myself, though I did catch it downtown at The Public Theater before it transferred. How about you?

Tyler Riley: I saw the Broadway production once. I believe most of the original cast had moved on at that point, but I still found it enjoyable, if not the best thing ever. I also went with myself, so I'm sure that played into my experience.

Elyse: Ha ha! Dates with yourself are cheaper and you're guaranteed good company. Having missed the original cast, you'll finally have your shot (sorry) starting this Friday. I wonder if it's going to break the internet?

Tyler: Maybe. I could see it causing a downage (is that even a word?) on the app. Everyone in my life—including those who aren't "theatre people"—seems to be aware that Hamilton is coming to Disney+. I think folks who are not Broadway lovers will watch because it has been massively hyped. I am curious, however, whether the hype will hold up on the screen.

Elyse: It will be interesting to see how the filmed version plays, especially with all the Hamiltons Disney spent on it. There's nothing like live theatre and being in the room where it happens (sorry, I'll try to go light on those!), and this show in particular feeds on the energy of the audience. That said, I have great expectations and think it will transfer to the screen beautifully because the writing is strong and the performers are wonderful.

Tyler: I am here for all of your wordplay! Watching Hamilton may not be on my Fourth of July weekend must-do list like it is for you, but I'll see it at some point. I am certainly curious. Lin-Manuel Miranda is extremely talented and I'm very happy for him and his success, even if I think Moana is better. :) Do you just love Hamilton or are you an all-around Lin-Manuel fan?

Elyse: Uh-oh, you may regret asking that! I am an even bigger In the Heights fan. I love everything he's touched from Sesame Street (Murray!) to Freestyle Love Supreme. When I saw that show I got pulled up on stage and he freestyled about my day and it will always be a favorite memory of mine. I'm convinced we'd be friends—he's also a dorky Disney lover like me. Fun fact: We both have a child who shares a name with a character from The Little Mermaid!

Tyler: Yep, I regret asking. Just kidding!

Elyse: Ha! He recently announced that he's writing another Disney movie. Pretty sure he'll take over the empire one day, which makes sense since kids love Hamilton.

Tyler: I find it interesting that so many kids adore this show when the tickets are so expensive. How can parents afford to take them?

Elyse: We can't! But we play them the original cast album. My daughter knew every word by the time she was 8, though I never managed to take her to see it. It was one of the few musicals my whole family was willing to listen to in the car, so I'm glad we'll get a chance to finally watch it together.

Speaking of Hamilfamilies… did you hear they had to get rid of a couple of instances of the word "fuck" to keep the PG-13 rating? Lin-Manuel's tweet was hilarious: "I literally gave two fucks." I know not everyone's happy about the decision, but I don't think it's a huge deal. If anything, I question the rating system. The show has moments that are much racier than a few f-bombs.

Tyler: I mean, they had to have known when they signed the deal that the f-word was not going to fly in the House of Mouse. I get Lin-Manuel's kind of flippant response, but as you said, in the grand scheme of things nothing is really being missed. And people can listen to the cast recording for the uncensored version.

Honestly, I'm more interested in the controversy around Hamilton's revisionist history. I wonder if those new to the show will be irked by what the musical leaves out or whitewashes? Historians have been complaining about that for years, and there was even a play by Ishmael Reed titled The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda that criticized the Hamilton creator.

Elyse: I'm glad you brought that up because I've been thinking about it. Hamilton asks us to question the narrative. As the lyrics say, "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" Lin-Manuel chose to tell the story of our white Founding Fathers—many of whom were slave owners—with Black and brown actors. I recall that Reed and others found it offensive to have actors of color in those roles.

Tyler: Right. I was recently listening to the original cast recording and I cringed at the constant references to freedom when there is such a clear lack of acknowledgement of slave ownership. I mean, it's pretty widely known about Jefferson. But Hamilton also bought and sold slaves for others, and even orchestrated the return of a slave to his sister-in-law Angelica. During the show we are almost beaten over the head with his abolitionist talk, so that's jarring. That said, I didn't find it offensive to have actors of color in these roles, as I know a lot of the original cast had a hand in the making of the piece.

Elyse: I think it's important to note that Lin-Manuel was focused on creating a "scrappy immigrant" narrative that was trailblazing in its own right, but it's also important to have these conversations about what he left out. Hamilton is increasingly used in classrooms, so I hope teachers are having thoughtful discussions with students and continuing to paint the whole picture, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

Tyler: It may be my cynicism creeping in, but I'm not sure teachers will really be able to fully facilitate the necessary conversations. I do not blame the teachers, as they are usually under a lot of pressure to cover the curriculum their states already have in place. Still, I think it is critical to have this information more widely known, especially with the martyrdom of Hamilton in the musical.

Whatever issues one has with the show, Lin-Manuel certainly went to bat for the original cast, helping to get them credit and royalties in perpetuity. They were an integral part of the creation of the musical, and they had intense negotiations with the producers to get what they were due. In the end, they won 1% of the net Broadway profits to split, as well as a smaller share of subsequent productions.

Elyse: Wow. That's pretty significant now that the show is a Disney movie! Did you hear that Disney+ did away with free trials in advance of Hamilton?

Tyler: I did, and I was not at all surprised. Disney is a corporation that has a lot of employees, and they are hurting. The parks are closed, ESPN ratings are down and this could be a huge money maker at a time when they really need it.

Elyse: I guess this is why I'll never be rich. I'd have thought they'd profit from all the free trial users who either liked the streaming service and decided to keep it or—if they're like me—forgot to cancel. There's also the question of whether folks will just use a friend's log-in. Do you think they'll squash that, too?

Tyler: Netflix and the WWE Network have tried and failed in curbing that loophole.

Elyse: Then there's the matter of bootlegs! Do you remember how outspoken Lin-Manuel was about bootlegs of the stage production? They were popping up everywhere under code names on YouTube. (I even had a copy that a friend sent me.) A professionally filmed version seems even harder to contain.

Tyler: I have always said that I would hate to be the bootlegger at a Lin-Manuel or Patti LuPone show—those two do not play. I certainly have happened upon YouTube bootlegs when, honestly, I was just looking for clips of the show. And with the type of technology out there, i.e. screencasting, I think whoever's job it is to shut down those streams will be working overtime, especially this Fourth of July weekend!

Will you be watching Hamilton on Disney+? Let us know what you think of it in the comments!

Elyse Orecchio is TDF's Online Presence Manager. Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter at @elyseo. In addition to working at TDF, Tyler Riley is an actor, voice-over artist and podcast host in the greater NYC area. He can be found on Instagram and on Twitter at @itstylerriley. Follow TDF on Twitter at @TDFNYC.

Top image: Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos and Lin-Manuel Miranda in the original Broadway production of Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.