The streaming version of the popular musical Hamilton, it would appear, is a hit.
There’s been no release of official streaming numbers for the filmed stage production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show, which was moved up 15 months from its planned theatrical release and debuted on Disney+ last Friday. But the arrival of Hamilton spurred a 74 percent surge in app downloads for Disney+ over the course of the weekend, per Variety, which included more than 750,000 downloads of the app worldwide, citing data from Apptopia.
We likely won’t know how many new subscribers signed up for Disney+ until the next time Disney releases corporate earnings, but chances are the service has jumped well past the 54.5 million subscribers it announced in April.
The arrival of Hamilton on Disney+, while exposing the show to millions of people who heretofore hadn’t seen it, has led to some discussions about what it could mean for the future of Broadway musicals on streaming. Will its apparent success open the floodgates for other streaming releases of popular Broadway musicals?
“Since they released Hamilton, and since Broadway is gonna be closed till most likely March at least,” the first tweet said, “now they can open up the fucking archives and stop sitting on decades of fully filmed and edited productions like a god damn dragons hoard?”
That certainly sounds like a great idea, at least on the surface. However, it’s not nearly that simple.
Not All Created Equal
For one thing, as pointed out by journalist Mark Harris, while many popular musicals of the past have been filmed, they’re not nearly done with the quality of the version of Hamilton that popped up on Disney+.
“As someone who has sat in those archives, I can tell you that in terms of visual quality, 99% of them are cave paintings compared to Hamilton,” Harris wrote. “In recent years, a handful of shows have been well shot–and by ‘well shot’ I mean maybe there were 3 cameras during the performance instead of 1. But closeups? Camera movement? Forget it. And the sound is that bad, echoey, B-roll that makes people think stage actors can’t act.”
There’s also the rights issues, which are significant. The producers of shows, who likely were responsible for the filming, are not often the same people who hold the rights to them, and who gets paid for a future streaming release is the sort of thing that’s significantly tied up in union contracts and other agreements.
While many popular musicals of the past have been filmed, they’re not nearly done with the quality of the version of Hamilton
“Most preserved Broadway shows are of for-researchers-only quality–one centered camera, far back, often on video that is already deteriorating. I wish the idea of a treasure trove just waiting to be freed were true, but it’s not,” Harris continued.
Furthermore, it made economic sense to produce a high-quality, spare-no-expense filmed version of Hamilton, because Hamilton is one of the most popular musicals of all time. Doing so doesn’t make so much sense for shows that aren’t so profitable.
There is a Broadway streaming service, Broadway HD, although what it offers is far from complete.
There have been all kinds of Broadway productions in recent years- the recent Oklahoma! revival, the version of Sunday in the Park With George, that starred Jake Gyllenhaal, or the Nathan Lane-starring edition of Angels in America – that I would have loved to see.
If there is one silver lining, however, it’s that the success of Hamilton will likely make a difference for popular Broadway shows going forward, once the theaters re-open. Hopefully that will lead to producers of future Broadway juggernauts to make an eventual streaming release part of their plans.
There are many classic Broadway musicals who have either never received a movie adaptation, or received one that was terrible. Hopefully, Hamilton will lead to a new era of more audiences being able to watch musicals at home, and eventually, someday, seeing them again at the theater.