If you missed “Hamilton’s America” on the PBS TV series Great Performances, you can watch the documentary here on their website. (Update: The full video is now only available to members of Channel 13.)
If much of the 82-minute documentary about the musical “Hamilton” is familiar, thanks to the book, Hamilton The Revolution (aka #Hamiltome) and innumerable interviews and Tweets, filmmaker Alex Horwitz trained his cameras on his former Wesleyan roommate Lin-Manuel Miranda years before opening night. There are informal moments of Miranda thinking out loud about what he’s about to create. Miranda himself also interviews people who influenced him, including Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim and rapper Nas.
But this is less a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the musical as it is a behind-the-hype look at the historical Alexander Hamilton. There is no rehearsal footage at all. The creative team and the performers don’t talk much about the show. (That’s left to others, such as Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis, who compares Miranda to Shakespeare, and First Lady Michelle Obama, who proclaims it “the best piece of art in any form I’ve ever seen.”) The “Hamilton” cast members talk history. Miranda makes an unintentionally pointed comment (in light of recent events), when he says about George Washington:
“I think the most extraordinary thing he did was step down from the presidency, ensuring that this American experiment would continue without him. By modeling a peaceful transition from president to president, he put us eons ahead of every other fledgling democracy on earth.”
There are interviews with historians, and with politicians U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a couple of former Secretaries of the Treasurer (Hamilton was the first Treasury Secretary: ‘I look at Alexander Hamilton as the patron saint of Wall Street,” says Henry Paulson.) We see the cast and creative team visiting historical sites, listening to talks by park rangers and other experts.
Still, there are enough tantalizing excerpts from the musical itself to remind those of us who have seen Hamilton how breathtaking and groundbreaking it is.