In an ideal world, I’d expect a Disney+ edition of Hamilton to have some real Broadway flavor. Perhaps there’d be a filmed rendering of waiting in line to have your ticket ripped at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, or a re-creation of buying an overpriced drink before taking your seat. But the stage recording of the hit musical, which starts streaming today, offers no such thing. It begins instead with a Skype clip in which the show’s writer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, acknowledges the sad circumstances of Hamilton’s online release: The musical wasn’t supposed to arrive on Disney+ until October 2021, but it dropped early to help distract audiences from the ongoing pandemic.
Watching the show from my couch in 2020, four years after I saw it on Broadway, was a strange throwback in more ways than one. I was reminded of the cruel reality that Broadway’s theaters will remain closed for the rest of the year because of COVID-19, a blow for an industry that relies on packed houses. Revisiting the show during another election year, it was hard not to think about how Hamilton was indelibly shaped by the more hopeful times of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The musical is, after all, an earnest work that celebrates patriotism and diversity, one that tries to distill the Founding Fathers’ revolutionary vigor into something modern. But in 2020, pride in most American institutions is at an all-time low, and the iconography of figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson feels ever more fraught. So when households across the United States watch the streamed version of Hamilton this holiday weekend, the musical might register as a surreal artifact—of a political moment that was defined by optimism, and of a pre-pandemic live experience that people clamored to see.