Disney announced Monday that a movie version of the millennial’s most successful Broadway musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, will be released in theaters October 2021. The entire original cast – featuring Miranda himself, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Leslie Odom, Jr., and others – is on board, with Thomas Kail, the director of the original show, directing again.
The twist, though, is that this isn’t an after-the-fact production that adapts the musical, nor does it appear to be the sort of traditional stage-to-screen show that gets shown on Great Performances or as a Fathom Event. The new movie will be based on a performance of the stage musical, featuring the original cast, that was filmed back in 2016. Disney’s press release describes the film as utilizing something called “live capture.”
“This movie transports its audience into the world of the Broadway show in a uniquely intimate way,” Disney continued. “Combining the best elements of theater and film, the result of a cinematic stage performance that is a wholly new name to experience Hamilton.”
It’s unclear exactly what that means – will digital backgrounds of, say, the Battle of Yorktown be inserted into the footage of the actors singing on stage? If so, Cats provided an indication that a popular musical and cutting-edge technology represent a highly risky combination. It’s also unclear whether this project precludes the possibility of a full-on film adaptation of Hamilton, not shot on stage, at some point in the future.
At any rate, the move represents a risk for Disney. The deal’s reported $75 million price tag, which won a bidding war with Netflix and others, shattered records. And the movie is also risky for the producers of the Hamilton stage production, which remains Broadway’s toughest ticket while also running lucrative touring production worldwide. Will the movie release, and its subsequent landing on Disney+, serve to cannibalize Hamilton’s stage revenues? Or is that $75 million worth the trouble?
The deal, however, is undeniably great news for Hamilton fans, who will get to see the show at the movies and eventually at home – and also for those of musicals in general. The genre hasn’t quite broken through in the streaming space yet, although there are signs that such a breakthrough might be on the way. Netflix is developing both a movie of tick, tick…BOOM!– directed by Miranda himself – and a star-studded version of The Prom, from super-producer Ryan Murphy.
Might a successful Hamilton launch encourage Netflix, Disney and their fledgling streaming competition to start adapting popular Broadway musicals, of both the present and past? Though knowing Disney, they’ll probably mine the stage versions for yet another bite of the Lion King and Aladdin apples.
Hamilton, along with its Tonys, Pulitzers and MacArthur Genius Grants, has sparked interest in the American founding, while also serving to some as a shorthand of the elitist snobbery of the Democratic Party. But it’s also a truly great musical, unlike anything ever on Broadway before; and it instantly jumps to the top of any lists of most anticipated movies of 2021.