Hamilton on Disney Plus is bringing musical theater to a whole new audience

It's more than another movie musical -- it's a game changer.

Steph Panecasio Former Editor
Steph Panecasio was an Editor based in Sydney, Australia. She knows a lot about the intersection of death, technology and culture. She's a fantasy geek who covers science, digital trends, video games, subcultures and more. Outside work, you'll most likely find her rewatching Lord of the Rings or listening to D&D podcasts.
Steph Panecasio
4 min read

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo star in the original cast of Hamilton.

Disney Plus

Right now, Disney Plus subscribers all over the world are staring at their screens, transfixed at the lyrical and musical genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton

The musical follows the life of US founding father Alexander Hamilton, as he goes from misunderstood Caribbean immigrant to the first ever Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. It celebrated its inaugural year with a record-breaking 16 Tony Award nominations in 13 categories, winning 11 -- including the prestigious Best Musical award.

As an amateur musical theater performer myself, it's all I've been able to talk about for weeks. I know every single word of every single song. My Spotify yearly wrap-ups have featured Hamilton songs since the day the soundtrack hit the platform five years ago.

This is exciting. This is musical theater history

But there are a lot of people who don't understand the significance of a show like Hamilton making it onto such a widely distributed and affordable platform.

"Didn't they basically do the same thing with Les Misérables and Cats?"

"Sure, but it's not as big of a deal as when The Mandalorian hit."

"It's just another musical, I don't see why it's so hyped."

First of all, let us never discuss the film adaptations of Les Misérables and Cats in the same breath again. But, more importantly, there's a crucial difference here that people outside the theater world may not grasp until they actually see it for themselves.

Hamilton's premiere on Disney Plus doesn't inherently make it a movie, like the Les Mis adaptation. It certainly isn't a TV show, like The Mandalorian, though its running time and intermission break might make it feel like two episodes. 

You see, despite being filmed, it retains its core as a theater production. You will see mics peeking out from wigs. You will see sweat. You will see painstakingly designed set pieces rotating and moving in a way designed to maximise impact for a packed theatre, not your lounge room. You will see it all close-up, better than the front row. 

And that, for a show like Hamilton, is huge. 

Despite my adoration for all things theater, I'm well aware that it has its flaws. The big one? Accessibility. There's a reason that the stereotype of a theater-going snob exists.

A culture of exclusivity has surrounded theater for a long time, especially when it comes to the hyped-beyond-comprehension shows like Hamilton. You want to see a show like that with the original cast? I hope you've got a couple thousand dollars spare -- and you better live in the continental US, otherwise you can triple that price with international flights and accommodation.

Sure, you could win the ticket lottery if you're lucky (though chances are slim at best), but for a show that makes a point of saying its protagonist is "young, scrappy and hungry," the environment certainly doesn't cater to that clientele.

At the start of a run, waitlists can stretch weeks, even months, before you can get affordable tickets (that don't have you sitting up in the nosebleeds). I've heard stories from people who, at the height of Hamilton's popularity, spent hours refreshing ticket windows on their computers just for a back row seat.

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Unlucky or priced-out fans then turn to the internet for shoddily recorded bootlegs of their favorite shows, notoriously disguised as "slime tutorials" to get around restrictions forbidding unlawful recording and republishing of a show -- and that's a contentious debate in and of itself, because actors and audience members alike know you won't be getting the show as intended.

If by some miracle they do find a viable bootleg, chances are it's 10% Hamilton and 90% a shaky iPhone recording of the back of someone's head in 144p.

Not really the same, huh?

So now, in a time where we're all stuck inside and theaters are closed, production companies are forced to find new avenues. Avenues like Disney Plus. And I cannot emphasize the value in that change enough.

Art should be accessible. Sure, it's not so hard to see Hamilton anymore, but what about the next big show? What about the next "blow us all away" hit to land on Broadway?

Performers preach that theater is for everyone, but when tickets are priced so high that they exclude a significant portion of the population, it just isn't. A Disney Plus subscription though? Infinitely more achievable.

Hamilton's premiere on such an accessible platform marks a potential for genuine change and improvement in the future. I know that nothing will ever replace the feeling of being in a real-life theater, sharing a room with strangers experiencing the same extraordinary thrills.

But if this is the best, most inclusive way to introduce more people to theater, then I am all for it. It's not just another movie musical being added to the platform. It's a catalyst and a step forward to making theater, truly, for everyone.

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