Australian talent Jason Arrow, who brings his own spin to Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway hit premiering in Abu Dhabi on January 17 at the Etihad Arena, believes politics is a vehicle for telling a “very human story”.
The multi-award-winning musical is the remarkable story of American founding father, Alexander Hamilton, chronicling his eventful life. Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show uses politically charged lyrics and rap music to tell his story. The life of America’s first secretary of the treasury may seem like an unusual subject for a musical. But what really elevates Hamilton is its music and its mix of hip-hop, rap battles, pop, and jazz.
“It’s more than just that [American history] … Each of these characters aren’t perfect, and that’s what I love about the show … There’s no hero or a villain, and it isn’t obvious who the good guy or the bad guy is … For some people, Hamilton can be the bad guy too … But this is a great vehicle for telling human stories and how people navigated a very difficult point in time,” said Arrow in an interview with Gulf News.
The sung-through musical — which has scooped The Tony, Grammy, Olivier, and Pulitzer Prize, follows Hamilton from his early life as a poor orphan in the Caribbean to his ascendancy as the right-hand man of George Washington, to his death in an infamous duel with Aaron Burr. And naturally, it boasts a diverse cast and crew.
Excerpts from our interview with Arrow as we discuss his role, representation, diversity, and why ‘Hamilton’ has become this unstoppable cultural juggernaut:
‘Hamilton’ famously tackles complex themes like gender equality. It talks about joining the fight. How do you think these themes will be received in the region?
It’s such a universal theme. Gender equality is something we’re all still talking about to this very day. Plus, in terms of joining the fight and being behind something that you believe in by rallying together is very important for any nation to get behind. And that’s why I think the show resonates so well with everyone wherever it goes. It really incites something and ignites something in each one of them, and that’s why I think it’s important for everyone everywhere to see the show at one point or another.
The UAE is a diverse country with various ethnicities and has immigrants from around the globe. So do you think ‘Hamilton’ will also break language barriers and appeal to all those who may not fully understand English musicals?
That’s a good question and one that I haven’t actually thought about because I live in Australia. It’s not really something that crossed my mind. But I am going to say that music is universally felt and experienced. Music is something that everyone knows and can align with. And that in itself is a reason why you should come and see the show. We are doing the show in an Etihad Arena setting, and arenas are just so all-encompassing and massive. It feels greater than yourself, which is something that I think is really important. This show is your chance to connect with something bigger and greater than yourself. You can grow with this. Sorry, I was getting really philosophical there.
Speaking of philosophy and serendipity, did you expect ‘Hamilton’ to be this cultural Broadway show juggernaut?
I did not know that. When ‘Hamilton’ came along for auditions back in 2019, I never thought that I would play Hamilton in my wildest dreams. I auditioned for the show, obviously, as you do if you’re in the acting industry and go for whatever’s out there. Work is work. And I loved the show. Plus, I’ve done hip hop and rap in bands before and so this was right up my alley … And here we are. So it’s just a testament to how things can change rapidly, and how the unexpected can become the norm for you. I would never in my wildest dreams think that I’d be talking to someone across the world. It’s literally two different worlds that we live in. We’re in different time zones right now, but we are talking about a piece of art I do. I never thought it would be something that I do in my life. This is a big moment for me, just this call alone.
‘Hamilton’ has embraced diversity and has a cast with people that look like us … Representation has become so crucial and important, isn’t it?
Yeah, I think so. I am an immigrant from South Africa whose family emigrated from South Africa when I was like five or six years old. My parents had nothing, and so they built everything from the ground up. Essentially, my parents are Alexander Hamilton, and I have based my role around my parents. My dad fighting and trying to blend into a new society … The SA now is very different from what South Africa was and is. I used that as a catalyst for my version of Hamilton. It’s very important. When we were doing Hamilton in Auckland, everyone was seeing Maori actors in the show. Every night, the show brought tears to your eyes. The reaction that we got offstage was beautiful and stunning. I will never forget it. People love seeing themselves represented up there.
Hamilton is all about word play. It’s fast-paced and intense. How do you prepare for one of your career’s most defining roles?
It was tough, especially at the beginning. Nowadays, not so much. We have done 700-something shows until now and so I feel pretty good. But some nights, it still feels tough … Recently, there was a night when my brain started questioning if I knew the lyrics. There was no particular reason behind that doubt, but I started getting really anxious about that. It’s just human nature and that’s the beauty of live theatre. You go and see it, but you don’t know what’s going to happen at any point. In a show like this, it’s thrilling to watch people bring all this energy and characters to life.
Have you been to the UAE before, and what are your observations about Abu Dhabi?
I have been told it’s a beautiful country with beautiful people. I have a few friends there from before. I am keen to go dune bashing in those 4X4s. I am also curious about all those supercars, and I hope to drive at least one supercar. Shopping is also something that I have definitely heard about.
When you are a part of an iconic musical like ‘Hamilton’ which travels around the globe, travelling and living out of suitcases are a part of that package. How do you handle that stress of being on the constant move?
With this tour, we will be living out of a suitcase, but this is one of our shortest seasons. Three weeks is a real quick turnaround. But I don’t mind it because I get to see a new place and experience new people. I always had this mantra in my life when I was younger about wanting a job that would make me travel around the world. I don’t know why, but I had that idea in my brain and here we are. It’s actually happening. I don’t find any of this taxing or stressful. I have been doing this show for over two years now and have done over 700 shows. To work on something I love, it’s all so positive for me.
Don’t Miss It!
When: January 17 to February 11
Tickets: Dh180 to Dh1,500 (Monday to Thursday shows and Sunday 6pm show) and Dh300 to Dh1,700 (Friday-Sunday)