Jason Arrow talks 'Hamilton' character ahead of musical's Middle East debut

The lead star of the popular musical production 'Hamilton,' spoke about his character and how he's grown to love the role he has been playing for two years

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Husain Rizvi

Published: Tue 6 Jun 2023, 6:05 PM

Last updated: Tue 20 Jun 2023, 4:49 PM

The Tony, Grammy, Olivier, and Pulitzer prize-winning production, Hamilton is all set to make its Abu Dhabi debut.

The production, which first premiered on broadway in 2015 to wide critical and audience acclaim, is currently set for its international tour. It will premiere in the Philippines before it arrives to the capital city’s Etihad Arena next year. Hamilton features a blend of hip-hop, jazz, R&B and broadway, portraying the story of one of the founding father of US, Alexander Hamilton. Based on Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography, the production is the story of America then told by America now. The musical has created a profound impact on culture, politics, and education.

Producers of Hamilton, Jeffrey Seller and Michael Cassel AM, the producer of the Hamilton international tour, recently announced the lead star for their production. Jason Arrow, who originally played the role in the Australian version of Hamilton when it premiered in Sydney in 2021, will essay the role of Alexander Hamilton.

Jason has played the character in Melbourne, Brisbane, and now, Auckland (where he is right now), but he’s never been to Abu Dhabi, he says in a Zoom conversation with City Times. But the artist is really excited to bring the show to Abu Dhabi. “I am always excited to bring the show to a new place because it’s always received differently by different people,” he says. “So obviously the show means a different thing to everyone. For me, personally, being able to bring it to Abu Dhabi is going to be huge as a human being and as an artiste.”

He further spoke about his experience of playing Alexander, and what audiences can expect from the popular production in January 2024. Excerpts from the interview:

When you first bagged the role of Alexander in 2021, how did it feel?

Let me rewind here: It was 2020, so we were in the thick of lockdown, as I’m sure everyone can remember. And I just remember thinking how crazy it was that I was in this situation that no one in the world has been in before because we were all locked in our houses. And I got this amazing news that I could share with absolutely no one other than my partner. There was no one else around that I could share that with, also because I wasn’t meant to. But, yeah, I felt like I was sitting on the biggest news ever, and it made me so excited to get started. But since we were in the midst of such a crazy time, it was mind blowing to me and really quite surreal.

When you’re performing live, do you have a backup plan ready or do you just improvise if anything goes wrong?

So something happened very recently because in the show, the set revolves around. There are two pieces in the set that move independent of each other and they can do so at any time. Obviously, that’s all rehearsed as well and it was meant to go at this point in the show, but it didn’t move. And at that point, your brain sort of divides into two pieces. One piece is thinking about the analytical side of things, like I need to figure out how to get to where I need to get to because this thing is meant to mechanically take me there, but it can’t because it’s not moving. Then the other half of my brain is telling me I still need to act, I still need to be present and deliver a show to a paying audience. That is how I handle it. My brain sort of divides and goes, ‘What can we do? What do we need to do to get to the next point in the show as seamlessly as possible, but also deliver something to the audience.’ So we’re always prepared for anything that goes wrong, we have backup mics, backup contingencies for people who need to go off the stage if they fall sick or get injured, backups if the things mechanically fail. It’s very rare that the show stops for something. It’s only when even the backup fails that the show stops.

It’s been around two years since you put on Alexander’s cape. What does the character mean to you now?

It’s a constantly changing thing. I weirdly feel like it’s a part of me now. I think he’s made me figure out a more assertive side of myself socially, because I can be like that in private with friends, but in a social setting, it made me realise that there’s nothing wrong with going after what you want, there’s nothing wrong with having future plans and dreaming big. So I think that’s what I've really grown to love about the character. At first, I felt very differently towards Alexander, but now it feels like we’re kind of like Venom and Spider-Man, like two separate things, but they’re one.

Playing a character repeatedly may seem tedious. Is there something you do differently every time to make the character feel fresh?

The nature of the show is that it feels like it’s constantly shifting because it moves so quickly. You don’t have time to do the same thing you did yesterday because you just can’t think that fast. And even when you get used to thinking that quickly, you might have someone else opposite you who is like an understudy or a standby, which are people who do roles when other people are sick or something like that. So, it’s a constantly shifting puzzle piece in the show, where someone delivers a line slightly differently and you just have to respond in the moment. So keeping it fresh is something that’s built into the fabric of the show naturally, in just the way it moves, breathes and lives day to day.

Lastly, what can the Abu Dhabi audience expect from Hamilton’s Middle East debut?

At the Etihad Arena, it’ll be the same theatrical experience that we’ve come to know and love, but, of course, it will be an intimate experience. If you’ve seen the show before in America or in the UK, it’ll be like that. You all know the show as it stands and what’s going to be delivered. However, what will be different is obviously the people in the show. We’re coming from so many different walks of life. This is the first international company — the cast is made up of people from all over the globe who’ve done the show before. And I think seeing all those people from different walks of life on a stage internationally is going to be pretty exciting, to see what kind of Hamilton comes from that because it’s going to be so many different experiences trying to create this one story.

Let's go back in time a little bit. How did you get into acting and theater?

I started pursuing acting in high school. I had a drama teacher who told me I have a knack for this and asked me if I would like to audition for the school musical. The first thing I ever auditioned for was Little Shop of Horrors and I got a role in that show, and I was in year eight at the time which is quite young. Roles were never to people in that grade at that point in time, and I got a minor part because my teacher believed in me. So I think my drama teacher definitely helped cultivate my love for theater and saw something in me that I did not know existed at that time.

After Hamilton, what's next for you as an artist?

The next thing I'd like to do would be a live-action version of Hamilton, like a movie. That would be awesome. In terms of moving on to the next, I actually don't know. I love the show so much, I am still learning from it, growing from it, and it keeps throwing new curveballs at me. I never though I'd be doing an interview with someone halfway across the world, and here I am. So it is still delivering for me personally. I will stick with it as long as I can or as long as they will have me.

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