“Hamilton” vs. “1776” isn’t a fair fight, save in one regard

There are no “wholly original” stories out there, only fresh variations of all that came before them.

Every plot is a version of something dating back to “the classics.” Every character a new wrinkle of classic archetypes. Every novel, play, film, TV show or musical is a “mash-up.”

Even “Hamilton.” It’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” meets “1776,” with lyric-stuffed “patter songs,” Gilbert & Sullivan in hip hop.

There are some of laugh-out-loud moments in “Hamilton,” giddy little riffs (and raps) on the foibles of the Founding Fathers. It’s a better show than that stage relic of 1970, “1776,” to be sure — more history packed into the tunes, great choreography, etc.

Both shows, whatever the casting, almost “erase” slavery from the conversation, and skate past the “problematic” slave-owning shadow hanging over most of the major figures at the Foundation. Whatever the many virtues of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s history lesson, “1776” actually comes closer to addressing that “peculiar institution” (the Great Knoxvillian John Cullum plays South Carolina’s Edmund Rutledge with a properly villainous, slavery-defending edge).

One other thing “1776” managed what I think “Hamilton” lacks is this comic romp, a genuine show stopper. “Rise Up” may have stopped the show, on some nights during the run — anthemic, upbeat. And “Hamilton” mimics the earlier musical’s “1776” and onward Virginia self-importance about history, quite brilliantly, I thought. Daveed Diggs kills it as Thomas Jefferson.

Musical tastes change with the years. Heaven knows “1776” feels dated as dirt, musically, a last gasp of “Old Broadway” and “Old Hollywood.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda lets slip what he thinks of the musical idiom he chose for “Hamilton” in a lyric. He references the “Modern Major General” of Gilbert & Sullivan, THE classic “patter song.” A lot of hip hop, and almost all of “Hamilton” is basically syncopated patter songs. You learn something every day. LMM figured that out.

“Rise Up” and other highlights aside, I prefer my show-stoppers to be comic. This one, performed by Broadway actor Ron Holgate, who OWNED the part and brought it to the 1972 film, is a stitch. With “The Lees of Old Virginia” taking their share of (deserved) blows during the DeStatueing of the “Lost Cause” South, here’s a dash of puffed up foppery that still sings, all these decades later.

Self-important and silly, witty and chest-thumping, it’s still gloriously egotistical and ridiculous (I’ve seen this on the stage a few times, reviewing plays. Every actor doing it HAS to impersonate Holgate for it to come off.) almost 50 years after this film came out.

And as to Miranda’s disinterest in making “Hamilton” a real feature film, watch what the HORSE does in this song. Damn, That’s “opening up” a play. That’s Entertainment, kids.

Maybe rethink that Hollywood remake opposition, LMM.

Have a happy July Fourth.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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2 Responses to “Hamilton” vs. “1776” isn’t a fair fight, save in one regard

  1. Matt says:

    Even more amazing is that Ron Holgate had no horse-riding experience prior to filming this scene.

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