A major studio has done something that I have been talking about for years.
They made an exciting feature length movie of a major Broadway musical hit; in this case, Hamilton.
I’m not talking about movie adaptations of Broadway musicals from the past like West Side Story (1961), The Sound of Music (1965), Les Miserables (2012) or Cats (2019).
Those adaptations were lavishly shot on studio sound stages or outdoor locations, with varying degrees of success.
A few were classics. Others, like Cats, were a disaster.
What I’m talking about here is the live recording of a Broadway musical, on stage, in a theater setting with the original cast members.
From the earliest days of cinema, one of the most magical aspects of movie magic is the ability to record something for posterity.
From the earliest experiments, movies demonstrated that they could, in a sense, capture time.
Living in an image world as we do, it’s hard to imagine the initial, historical impact of movies.
It’s impossible to overestimate the power of moving images, back in the days when motion pictures were just beginning to come into existence.
Unlike drawings or paintings or even still photographs, movies were able to faithfully, mechanically capture movement and preserve fleeting reality for future generations.
While we’ll never know what life was like in Ancient Egypt or Rome or be able to glimpse scenes from the Civil War, we can watch silent films from the late 19th century and see what the past actually looked like through a camera’s lens.
Those early “actualities” and documentaries from Edison and the Lumiere Brothers ushered in a technology that mankind only dreamed about for centuries. We could record events and preserve them forever.
It’s an incredible capability that we largely take for granted.
These days everyone can record virtually everything, all the time.
Selfies, snapshots, video clips, we routinely document the details of our daily lives, particularly the moments that we consider to be memorable.
On a larger scale, almost nothing has escaped the watchful eye of the motion picture camera for over a hundred years.
If something important happened since the turn of the last century, we are usually able to find a movie or video clip and watch it.
A glaring exception has been the preservation of great stage performances.
While I’m more of a movie fan than a theater person, I never could understand why no one seemed to take the time or effort to preserve the truly great plays and musicals in modern history.
There have been screen adaptations, but no attempts at recording the actual stage performance. Even though we could.
For me, it’s tragic that so many great performances and performers have been lost forever.
I know that theater is a different kind of entertainment experience that is immediate and passing.
Part of the excitement is watching something unfolding in front of your eyes in real time. Something that you are priviledged to see and experience.
I’m not suggesting that this should ever change. That’s the domain and the power of theater.
But I could never understand why, toward the end of the run of a great show, that someone would take the effort to record it, not only for profit, but for posterity.
Ideally, capturing the performances of the original cast that made the show a hit.
So, I’m overjoyed that Disney has taken it upon themselves to do a live taping of the hit musical Hamilton performed live from the Richard Rodgers Theater in June of 2016 with the original Broadway cast.
I don’t think I need to talk about the colossal success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning modern masterpiece.
It was, and still is, immensely popular and successful.
As is always the case, its popularity resulted in sold-out performances for extended periods of time.
While road shows and soundtrack albums helped to make it available to the masses who were unable to experience it in person, the demand to see it outweighed the ability to make it available.
But now, it’s available to everyone and it will even be available to unborn generations to see and enjoy; including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s starring role in one of his final performances.
Hamilton (the movie) does a fine job of capturing the ambiance of the stage presentation, the lighting, the staging, the costumes and, of course the stunning performances.
It is a perfect balance of wide shots of the entire stage perfectly mixed with medium and close-up shots that we’d strain to see from our seats in a theater.
The audio is pristine.
Digital technology makes it vividly exciting to see and hear.
For the record, this is not the first live taping of a Broadway musical that Disney has released.
They did it back in 2017 with Disney’s Newsies: The Broadway Musical.
Understandably, that is being eclipsed in their latest effort.
My sincere hope is that the movie version of Hamilton is a huge success that leads to the recording of more musicals and plays.
My guess is that we all have a fantasy list of plays and musicals that we would have loved to have seen in our lifetime.
Legendary performances that we can now only try to imagine.
Art should be preserved and shared. And that includes performance art.
We have the means to do it. We just need the commitment.
Hamilton premieres July 3 on Disney+.