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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hamilton is the much anticipated filmed version of the original Broadway production about America's founders. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and stars as Alexander Hamilton in the hip-hop-inspired musical. Both young fans of the show and new audiences are likely to be interested in the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play: It's a true cultural phenomenon, with easily recognizable songs and references. The story does have mature themes, including adultery (there's a steamy number between Hamilton and a mistress) and dangerous rivalry throughout. Language includes a use of "f--k," plus "s--t," damn," "God," "bastard," "whore," hell," "ass," "pr--k," and "Jesus Christ." Darker scenes deal with war and deadly pistol duels. A suicide by hanging is alluded to, and the realities of slavery and the fact that many of these historical figures owned enslaved people are minimized. But there are plenty of inspiring and empowering messages here, as well as a strong theme of perseverance. And casting these White historical figures with a diverse group of actors offers new role models for young people thinking about what it means to be American.
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What's the story?
The title character of HAMILTON is Alexander Hamilton, one of America's founders (played by the creator of the musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda). Based on the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, the musical reimagines events in Hamilton's life and sets them to hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and Broadway music. We're introduced to Hamilton as an ambitious 19-year-old, an orphan and an immigrant who's about to be recruited as right-hand man and later treasury secretary to first U.S. president, George Washington (Christopher Jackson). The country is on the verge of overthrowing British rule (King George is played by Jonathan Groff) and forging its own government and Constitution. Hamilton courts and marries Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo) and flirts with her sister, Angelica (Renée Elise Goldsberry); he also deals with a mistress. Hamilton has philosophical disagreements with Thomas Jefferson (Daveed Diggs, who also plays the Marquis de Lafayette) and James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan). And Hamilton's long-running rivalry with Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) eventually proves to be his undoing.
Is it any good?
This filmed performance will delight the hordes of die-hard fans of the theater production's now iconic musical score, story, and original cast. It may also give viewers who couldn't get -- or couldn't afford -- a coveted ticket to Hamilton during its extraordinarily successful run on and off Broadway since 2015 the sense that they're catching up on something they missed.
The shift to the small screen does mean a loss of some of the immediacy and emotional punch of a live performance in front of a large and invested audience, but this version offers many rewards of its own. Multiple cameras supply new perspectives on the action, from bird's-eye views above the stage to close-ups that allow viewers to really see the actors' expressions -- right down to King George's spittle during his hilarious numbers. Fans can stop, rewind, repeat, and study these original, groundbreaking performances. Captured on film principally during a live Broadway show in 2016, the moments that seem to get the biggest applause in this recording are the most political: one-liners about enslaved people, women, and immigrants. It reminds you why Hamilton continues to feel so contemporary, relevant, and valuable -- in any format.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the historical events depicted in Hamilton. What did you know about this period in U.S. history before the musical? How could you learn more?
The show has people of color playing White historical figures and uses contemporary language and styles in the music. Why do you think these choices were made? What effects do they have on the story and your experience of it as a viewer? Why does representation matter in the media?
The musical famously asks, "who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" Whose stories does Hamilton not include in its own narrative? How does that affect your ability to enjoy it?
If you've seen a play or musical live in the theater, how does the experience of watching this filmed version differ? What do you gain -- and lose? Who's your favorite character, and why? Do you have a favorite musical number? What makes it special?
- On DVD or streaming: July 3, 2020
- Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr.
- Director: Thomas Kail
- Studio: Disney+
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: History
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 160 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language and some suggestive material
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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