ECU alum talks adapting “Hamilton” musical to television

Howell Binkley, an award-winning lighting designer, helped bring the musical "Hamilton" to the stage and the screen
Published: Jul. 8, 2020 at 8:54 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Howell Binkley, an ECU alum, has been nominated for 10 Tonys. He won his first for ‘Jersey Boys’ in 2006 and his second for the 5-year-old musical, “Hamilton.”

He said he nurtured his passion for lighting while working in the theatre department at ECU as part of the class of 1977. “That kind of pinned me in,” said Binkley.

He’s lit multiple Broadway shows since 1992. He got another shot working on “Hamilton”, where he brought the light and life to the 2-story wooden set.

He says one particular scene he worked on, where the character Eliza sings ‘Burn’, is one where lighting is key. “It’s just her on a bench. You know the little flame from the letters...a light through a window...I mean, that’s really, it just gives me chills,” he said.

After 5 years on Broadway, the musical made its way to the big screen with its original cast. They adapted it to film in 2016. They tweaked the show to make it work as a movie, which meant modifying the lights.

“We’re shooting from a camera that’s 3 feet from the actor,” explained Binkley. “I’m not trying to light from the back of the balcony.”

They filmed 3 live shows that way with 17 cameras running at the same time. Binkley said they decided to wait to release it until it was the right time. Now, with the coronavirus, he said they thought the timing was perfect.

He said the lighting, combined with the other incredible elements of the show, makes “Hamilton” so special, both on the stage and on screen.

“You can see it like when you’re watching you know on TV,” said Binkley. “It’s like, wow, it’s just really incredible.”

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