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Phillipa Soo and Leslie Odom Jr. Talk HAMILTON’s Legacy

Last month, Disney announced that they were moving up the premiere of their exclusive cut of Hamilton. The studio shifted the release of the production to this July 4 weekend on the Disney+ streaming site, instead of the originally announced date of October 2021 following a theatrical releasee. Fans of the show would finally be able to experience the industry-shaking musical in their own homes.

Often referred to as the “HamilFilm” by die-hard fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, the film is not a cinematic adaptation of the show. Shot all the way back in June 2016, this filmed version of the stage production stars the entirety of the original Broadway cast before they scattered to the winds into other projects.

Nerdist recently sat down with cast members Leslie Odom, Jr., and Phillipa Soo, who originated the roles of Aaron Burr (sir) and Eliza Hamilton on Broadway. We discussed the feel of the new production, what the prevailing message of Hamilton is in 2020, and the overall legacy of the show. 

On the filmed version of the stage musical
Phillipa Soo and Leslie Odom, Jr. Talk 'HAMILTON' coming to Disney+_2

Disney

PHILLIPA SOO: Being out in the audience, you see a very wide scope of things. In this film version, I felt like it’s as if somebody asked me to come see the show. And not only did I get to switch seats and be in the most ideal position for every single moment, but I got to also come up on stage and live in a dream where I’m surrounded by the storytelling and almost have an immersive experience too.

LESLIE ODOM JR.: Well, I mean, my favorite thing about this show besides just as a piece of writing, was that all-star ensemble that put the thing together. So just as a fan of those performers, the fact that I got to change my seat from either stage left to stage right or just upstage of them. The movie allows me to sit out front. It allows me to have that vantage point and take them in that way. It’s a great gift.

I’m a theatre practitioner, I’m a fan of the theater. I’m a fan of what happens in theatre, the catharsis and conversations, and the entertainment and the way that I’m changed and moved in the theater. That’s one of my favorite things in life. And so that is my favorite thing about this presentation of the show. That I get to really enjoy some people who are really skilled at what they do, who are some of the best at what they do, and I’ll get to cherish and hold on to these performances.

On how this film version translates some of their most intense moments in the show, like “Burn” and “The Room Where It Happens,” both actors had lots of praise for Thomas Kail, the director of the musical and the movie. “

LOJ: Film is a director’s medium so Tommy gets all the credit for that. I can’t imagine a better version of it. It honors the performances. It honors the choreography. It honors the live aspect of it. It honors all of the people that it took to make that moment happen.

PS: I am so grateful to how Tommy has captured all of us in this. I think especially in a moment like “Burn,” it felt so… it did feel intimate. He’s just so smart in the ways that he wanted to capture particular moments and getting in, in places where you can’t get in when you’re watching the show in an audience. He really pushes in, in the moments where we sort of want to move closer. My breath was just taken away.

On the message and legacy of the show
Phillipa Soo and Leslie Odom, Jr. Talk 'HAMILTON' coming to Disney+_1

Disney

Hamilton is, of course, a show about revolution. A violent, chaotic revolution. It’s a show that challenges the narrative of America’s own history through the choices it makes in its storytelling and its casting.

LOJ: It’s just a piece of art at the end of the day. But I think you can hold it up as a symbol of what’s possible when we invite more than just straight white men to the room, quite frankly.”

Given that aspect of the show, how do those who performed in it feel about its place in the voice of America in the summer of 2020?

PS: What is true is that revolution is messy. Creating a new nation back then was an imperfect experience. And I think our experience now is also an imperfect experience. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to participate as citizens in this country to make it the world that we want to be.

LOJ: The conversation has progressed, the country has progressed. You know, you may not feel like it, there’s new information, there’s more history that gathered behind us every year that we’re on this planet. You know, it’s funny. When these protests started, and people were like, “No, no, the way to do it is through peaceful protest.” It’s like, okay, let me remind you of the last Black man to try and peaceful protest. His name’s Colin Kaepernick. And you called him a son of a b**** and you said, “Son of a b**** is off the field.” Some people’s memories are very short, but the facts are the facts and there’s more history behind it that we can point to.

My final show I dedicated to Philando Castile. I was so hurt and kind of grappling with his death. I think he was murdered on the 6th of July [2016] and I think my final performance was on the 9th or the 11th. So I was still trying to untie that. And I remember when Sandra Bland mysteriously turned up dead in her cell. I remember thinking about the women in my show, the Black women in my show, and what they must have been going through, what I was going through at that time.

We’re seeing the same things continue to happen, what we’re not seeing is people sitting back and taking it anymore. So people out there,  they want to see something done about it. We’re seeing some small changes happen, and some large changes happen.

PS: I think that more than ever, we need something like this to remind us, of the places that we want to go to. To give us some hope to give us some inspiration. And to know that, you know, even in even amidst chaos, there’s something to be found there. There’s something to be searched for. Which might be, you know, it might be dangerous, it might be messy. It might be loud, it might be violent. But in the end, as long as we’re working towards building something, you know, we can, we can set our eyes towards that.

Phillipa Soo and Leslie Odom, Jr. Talk 'HAMILTON' coming to Disney+_3

Joan Marcus

LOJ: Theater is dark, theaters are dark all over the country all over the world. It’s not happening. But because we were able to preserve the show in this way Hamilton will maybe get to continue to be a part of the national conversation. I’d like to see how people pick it up. If it inspires, does it do anything for that? I really don’t know.

PS: I think it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. What all great art is supposed to do, which is to hold a mirror up to society, to give people a chance to ask themselves, “Who are we? What do we stand for?” And I think back [in 2016], some of us maybe had a different answer. And I think that answer has changed for a lot of us now. I think that if we can accept the things about ourselves that are dark and imperfect and flawed, but that is the first step in really creating a country that we want to be in.

Hamilton premieres on July 3 on Disney+.

Featured Image provided by Disney

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