Exclusive Interview: Speaking with the cast of Hamilton on performing in Asia and more

Did you know that Alexander Hamilton’s birthday recently passed? That’s right, one of America’s founding fathers was born on 11 January, over 250 years ago, where his ideas have laid the foundation for the government we see now. Today, the man’s impact is being felt in the theatre world, where the Hamilton musical based on him is making headlines everywhere it goes.

And the prize-winning musical is going worldwide with its ongoing International Tour. The cast, who had many members from 2021’s Australian Tour reprising their roles, recently concluded the Manila leg of the tour to huge acclaim. 

We spoke to three members of the cast — David Park (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Shaka Bagadu Cook (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), and Jacob Guzman (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton) — on their time in the Philippines, performing in Asia for the first time, and insights on their characters, before the team opens in Singapore on 19 April 2024.

Hamilton is heading to Singapore, which we are super excited for! How has performing in Manila been so far?

David Park: Manila was a dream city and community to launch the tour off in. We received so much love from the fans there, and to be at Rachelle Ann Go’s side as she sang her FACE off for her OG fans, it was a truly special experience that I will hold with me forever.

Hamilton Interview: Rachelle Ann Go
Rachelle Ann Go returns to the Philippines, reprising her role as Eliza Hamilton

Shaka Bagadu Cook: Performing in Manila has been insane and wild fun! The people, the language and the culture there is so indescribably beautiful and welcoming. Definitely a lifetime experience indeed, and the fans were beyond measure worth doing the show for.

Jacob Guzman: Performing in Manila has been really great! We have been here for 3 months now, so it has been really nice to spend some time to get to know the culture a little. Having some family here has made quite the difference as well, (we) truly got immersed with the people and the food.

When performing for an Asian audience, do you notice any distinct nuances or differences in the reception, given that Hamilton revolves around American history?

David: This is funny because I remember that when we started in Manila, word had gotten back to us that the audiences were maybe being a little more polite while watching and not being as vocal in their responses. Until we sent word back out through word of mouth and even a fan event that some of our principal cast members were in, where they encouraged Manila to spread the word that we want it LOUD in there! 

But in terms of the source material, I think you don’t need to know the specific history to have a profound experience watching this show. As you watch, the characters become about their motives and their interactions and decisions rather than who they were in American History, and understanding their characters also perfectly illuminates who they were in historical context and how Americans are taught to view some of these figures.

Shaka: In Manila, there was definitely a lot of Filipino pride, which was amazing to experience. I think this kind of show resonates with people globally.

Jacob: Yeah, I do notice that they are more polite with clapping and making noise. They do seem to be really into the show though. I think the Philippines specifically likes US culture/history, so they really enjoyed it.

All of you are performing dual roles in the production. Can you tell us more about the process of portraying two characters in one show? What are the differences between the roles?

David: I think the fact that these two characters are portrayed by the same actor are not by accident but extremely intentional. The history that I experience as Lafayette, and the bond and connection I form with Hamilton and the other Sons of Liberty, are all carried with me to Act 2 as Jefferson. 

I have a strong bond with Madison because I built that with him all of Act 1. When I ask Hamilton, “Did you forget Lafayette?” as Jefferson, I say it with great pain and frustration because Lafayette loves Hamilton in a way he probably never gave to Jefferson. While similar in ability, their moral allegiance lies in different worlds, and so the envy and projected righteous indignation that my Jefferson is living in, is a jealousy of Hamilton that is wholly informed by the arc I go through in the first act.

Shaka: Each character has their different essence and quirks, different voices and rhythms. Personally I like to try and find what drives my characters and how they affect the way they walk and talk and how they interact with others and in given circumstances. It’s a lot of fun.

Jacob: It’s really fun to play 2 different characters. It challenges me to make different choices as two different people in the same show. I like playing John Laurens because he is confident and a revolutionary and is willing to die for his country. Philip is fun because he is a little kid who wants to be like his dad. I like that you see him grow up in the second act. From a 9-year-old to a 19-year-old with more swagger and confidence.

What is the most fascinating/exciting thing you’ve learned about the characters you play?

David: About how amazing it is that these were the people at this moment with the exact particular temperament and demeanour to yield the exact results that occurred. If anyone had done anything differently or had been a different person to want different things, history could be radically different!

Shaka: Most fascinating thing I learnt about the characters I play is that 1. James Madison died at the age of 85, which is a pretty good run for someone back in those days and 2. He was a hypochondriac.

Jacob: Philip wants to be like his dad and listens to his dad when he says to aim his pistol at the sky, but that’s what gets him killed. His dad essentially is the one who kills him.

Unlike typical musicals that predominantly feature singing, Hamilton incorporates rap, bringing a unique element to the performance. How do you approach the challenge of seamlessly blending both musical styles in your performance?

David: Here’s the thing about rap, and particularly rap in musicals written by Lin Manuel Miranda, they’re fast. Like really fast. The amount of information that man puts in 4 measures of music, let alone a song, is insane. So, at times, there is not even time to fully think and full through everything is happening because so much of it is passing by in a matter of seconds. 

So I think that that’s why it is really important to have a deep and genuine, personal appreciation for the culture and music that the style is inspired by. Their personas and delivery tell so much of the emotional story and I have just tried to learn from that as much as I can.

Shaka: It’s the only form of musical I know. I come from an acting background. Hamilton is my first musical, so it is the only style and form of musical I know.

Jacob: I enjoy rapping in the show. I think as long as you are focused on telling the story, that’s what really matters. You are just saying words in a rhythm and adding your own swag or style to it. I think musical theatre has a wide range of styles. It doesn’t have to be just ballads or classical musical theatre.

What are some memorable backstage moments from the international tour?

Shaka: Learning Tagalog backstage from the local crew and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans.

Jacob: Our cast likes to have a lot of fun during the show, so probably all the shenanigans we get into and the pranks we pull on each other.

Prior to joining the production, did Hamilton hold any personal significance for you? Has your connection to the musical evolved or taken on a different meaning now that you are actively performing in the production?

David: Hamilton has been a dream of mine since I became a fan of the show. Those two moments were almost simultaneous. From the opening number of the show, when I first watched in 2015, I immediately knew that I wanted to be in this show. 

So to now be that person that walks out on stage left rapping the same lines that I watched Daveed speak when I watched will probably never stop blowing my mind when I pause to think about it. My appreciation for how meticulously and intimately this show is crafted has only grown with time, and I am grateful to have the incredible luck to be blessed with that time.

Shaka: I didn’t know anything about Hamilton until I auditioned. My connection to the musical has definitely changed and evolved. I left the company for a year back in Australia, and then they asked me to come back to do the Asia tour, and I definitely couldn’t say no. 

To be given an opportunity to see more of the world and learn the different cultures, and meet people from different lives is something I treasure, and Hamilton has given me this opportunity. Seeing how this show makes people feel and how it inspires and changes lives makes it all worth the sweat, blood and tears.

Jacob: I first watched Hamilton when my Twin brother David joined the OG company back in 2016, and I fell in love with the show. It blew my mind: the music, the staging, the story. The best show I have ever seen. After learning the show, my love just fell deeper. How there is meaning behind every movement, the words, staging, lighting, set changeover, turntable moves, there is no detail that has not been thought about. Truly is an incredible show.

What do you hope audiences in Asia can take away from seeing Hamilton, and what can the Singapore audience look forward to?

David: One of the best musicals ever written in person. To experience what our story inspires or moves in you, is a once in a lifetime experience!

Shaka: I hope they can take away a sense of hope and strength, and power and a feeling of being heard and seen. Look forward to having a great time and don’t be afraid to express the fun and joy this show can bring. Oh, and definitely look forward to the Yorktown Hercules Mulligan rap; it’s about to go off!

Jacob: I think everyone can relate to this story one way or another. I hope people walk away inspired to chase your dreams no matter what they are. They can look forward to a really good story that will touch their hearts.

Hamilton in Singapore

Date: 19 April 2024 to 26 May 2024
Location: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands

CategoriesOff-peak(Tues – Thurs/ Sun 6.30pm)Peak(Fri/Sat/Sun 1pm)
StallsS$150 – S$250S$170 – S$280
Dress CircleS$180 – S$250S$200 – S$250
VIP Box S$1,000S$1,000
Grand CircleS$80 – S$120S$100 – S$140
Box ABS$720S$720

Tickets for Hamilton can be purchased through the Marina Bay Sands website.

Visuals courtesy of Hamilton International Tour and Joan Marcus.

Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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