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Hamilton Is Coming to Movie Theaters, but Not as a Film Adaptation

It's not a "movie" in the traditional sense.

Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Jasmine Cephas Jones will appear in the forthcoming film of the Broadway production of Hamilton.
(© Joan Marcus)

A loud cheer went up across the theater-loving world this week when it was announced that Hamilton would finally arrive in movie theaters under a distribution deal with the Walt Disney Company. Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop biography of America's first Treasury Secretary was a musical phenomenon when it debuted at the Public Theater in 2015. It quickly transferred to Broadway, where it won an armful of 2016 Tony Awards. Four years later, it's still one of the most sought-after tickets on Broadway, and its cast recording has been streamed millions of times by the Broadway faithful.

This Story of the Week will explain when you can see Hamilton at your local movie house, and what makes it a little different from most other movie-musicals.

Daveed Diggs played Lafayette in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton, and will appear in the film version.
(© Joan Marcus)

What makes Hamilton a little different from most other movie-musicals?
When we think of film versions of musicals, we tend to think of feature films based on popular Broadway shows, with Hollywood celebrities taking over the principal roles. Think Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!, or Meryl Streep in Into the Woods, or the forthcoming film adaptation of The Prom (starring Meryl Streep). Hamilton won't be anything like those movies — and it won't star Meryl Streep.

In fact, the Hamilton movie will retain the entire original principal cast from the Broadway run, because they were all there the night it was shot. Hamilton is a filmed version of the Broadway show, rather than a full film adaptation with new actors performing a new screenplay (like in the upcoming adaptation of Miranda's In the Heights). This means that moviegoers will be treated to the experience of seeing the show on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, rather than seeing the musical performed on realistic sets depicting the historical locations referenced in the score. Essentially, the film will try to convey exactly what it was like to see Hamilton on Broadway in 2016.

"All who saw it with the original cast will never forget that singular experience," Disney CEO Bob Iger said, strongly insinuating that he was one of those lucky individuals. "We're thrilled to have the opportunity to share this same Broadway experience with millions of people around the world." And while nothing will ever fully supplant the experience of seeing a musical live, this cinematic undertaking promises to get much closer than the filmed stage shows that came before it.

Is there precedent for Broadway musicals being filmed onstage?
Absolutely. Beyond the extensive collection kept under lock and key at the Lincoln Center's Performing Arts Library, a number of Broadway musical have been taped for public consumption, including Kinky Boots, The King and I, and Miss Saigon for Broadway HD. Netflix has a few Broadway shows available for streaming, like Shrek the Musical and Oh, Hello. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I personally own a DVD copy of David Hasselhoff performing in Jekyll & Hyde, but I cherish my DVD copy of Angela Lansbury and George Hearn in Sweeney Todd.

According to Deadline, Disney paid a remarkable $75 million for the rights to distribute the Hamilton film, which guarantees a theatrical release with a much wider reach than any of those earlier films received. This is going to be a must-see cinematic event for Broadway fans, and a strong incentive for musical lovers to purchase a subscription to Disney (where Hamilton will presumably live following its theatrical release).

Hamilton also promises to be a leap forward in the art of "live capture," conveying the experience of a live Broadway performance in a uniquely intimate way. "We are thrilled for fans of the show, and new audiences across the world, to experience what it was like onstage – and in the audience – when we shot this at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in June of 2016," said director Thomas Kail in a press statement, adding, "We wanted to give everyone the same seat, which is what this film can provide."

Leslie Odom Jr. played Aaron Burr in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton, and will appear in the forthcoming film.
(© Joan Marcus)

When will I be able to see Hamilton in movie theaters?
Hamilton won't be in movie theaters until October 15, 2021, which seems like an enormous gap between when filming completed (June 2016) and when we can actually see it. While no official rationale has been given for this substantial wait time, I would assume it is part of an effort to not cannibalize ticket sales for the multiple sit-down productions and tours currently playing all around the globe. For a show going on five years old, Hamilton is still a huge money-maker: Last week, the Broadway run alone pulled in $2.7 million in ticket sales, making it the highest-grossing show on Broadway by a wide margin (Moulin Rouge! was last week's runner-up, with $1.6 million). And audiences are still willing to pay a premium to see a three-hour bio-musical about the ten-dollar founding father: Last week's average paid admission to Hamilton was $248.89.

I still anticipate that a true film adaptation will one day be created. The historical setting and cinematic thrust of the story call out for a complete reimagining on the big screen. Jump cuts are practically woven into the fabric of Hamilton, and you just know that "Satisfied" would be spectacular in film form. So while I'm chomping at the bit to experience Broadway's Hamilton again (Lord knows, I certainly cannot afford a ticket to see it live), I really hope that Miranda and company are continuing to dream up new ways to tell this story.