A woman with a big smile holding a Hamilton ticket in front of the Hamilton artwork
Photograph: Katherine Sivieng Katherine Sivieng seeing Hamilton for the first time

Why these Hamilton fans can't get enough of this show

The era-defining musical has millions of fans, but why does it resonate with these superfans?

Cassidy Knowlton

It's kind of impossible to talk about the phenomenon that is Hamilton without talking in hyperbole. It's been seen by close to 15 million people. It won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. The Mirror urged readers to "sell everything you own to get your hands on a ticket". The Telegraph agreed it was "the greatest show on Earth". Time Out Sydney (OK, it was me) said it was the "apotheosis of theatregoing". 

But just what is it about the show that resonates so damn much? 

"It was an artwork that fed almost every mental and emotional need that I had for about six months," says Hamilton fan Katherine Sivieng. She had the soundtrack on repeat, to the exclusion of any other music, for a solid six months after discovering it in 2016.

"At that point in time, that obsessive period, Hamilton was the work of art that answered every need that I had. When I was sad and I wanted someone to relate to my sadness. It captured this beautiful sorrow. When I was sad and needed to be cheered up, it was something that I could get lost in the joyous music. When I needed escapism, it was a story to escape to. When I needed realism for life. It is a story that contains the human experience or many elements of the human experience. When I was feeling work frustrated and was writing a job application, it was captured ambition and was a great soundtrack to write a job application to. When I was in the office at 9pm at night trying to muddle through spreadsheets, it was a song to dance along to so that I would live on my feet and moving while I was working through masses of numbers."

Between jobs in April 2017, Sivieng flew to New York to see the musical on stage for the first time. After queueing for eight hours for tickets at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, she was able to see the story come to life on stage, an experience she describes as "overwhelming and honestly really hard to take". 

Hamilton was the work of art that answered every need that I had

She saw the show again in London, but the most meaningful viewing was when she flew to Puerto Rico to see it. Show writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda had taken the show to his native Puerto Rico to raise money for the community after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, and Sivieng bought tickets to the final performance. Miranda himself performed every show, and that was the first time Sivieng had seen him in the role he originated.

"There's this moment of the show, when Alexander's upstage and he walks downstage into the light and says, 'I'm Alexander Hamilton'. And it's common for a really keen audience to go quite rapturous at that moment. It happened in Sydney, it happened in Melbourne, happens all over the world. When Lin cleared on that stage everyone in theatre erupted onto their feet are hollered and cheered for about 40 seconds. It was a standing ovation within one minute, maybe 90 seconds of the start of the show. Apparently, it happened for every single performance [in Puerto Rico], not just the one that I went to... I think I was in tears, I just started crying, and I probably didn't stop crying for all of act two."

A woman smiling in the Hamilton theatre before the show
Photograph: Rah GardinerRah Gardiner seeing Hamilton

Rah Gardiner had a similarly transformative experience when she saw the show for the first time in London. Like Sivieng, she loved the soundtrack, and she found the first performance so moving she went to the box office during the interval and bought a ticket to a performance three days later. "I lost my shit, it was a 'pinch me, is this real?' moment," Gardiner says. "I had goosebumps the entire time, I cried in the first song. I was very emotional because I had jetlag, but it was also the enormity of what I was seeing. It was also iconic, going to the West End and seeing a show."

Gardiner loves the show so much she set up an Australian Hamilton fans Facebook page, which she still administrates. Although things were quiet on the page at first, as soon as the Australian production was announced excitement started picking up. There are now almost 10,000 members of the group, with more joining all the time. 

As wonderful as that first London performance was, Gardiner says the Australian cast are astonishing. "The first performance was spectacular, everyone performed beautifully," she says. She's gone back multiple times during the Sydney run, and she says each time the cast find new elements to bring to their roles. "They’ve just settled into it, they’re embodying the character a lot more," she says. "They are just wearing it now, they can just be the character instead of having to perform the character. Now in Melbourne, they’re just going to go off."

As a woman of colour, Sivieng found the experience of seeing a diverse cast in the smash-hit musical both meaningful and essential. "I love the Australian company," she says. "I remember anticipating who they might be, and the joyous reveal through that cast announcement video that came out during lockdown. We've always had strong musical theatre talent in Australia despite our relatively small arts scene, and it's amazing to see what deliberate casting of diverse local talent in Australia looks like, and what it achieves on stage. We have this exciting mix of experienced hands and emerging talent – it's so exciting to have super experienced performers like Brent Hill, with his enormous toolkit, smashing it as King George III, on the same stage as young performers making their professional musical theatre debut. And having Chloe Zuel, another experienced performer (anyone who saw her as Aragon in Six knows she's a queen and a real triple threat) and a woman of colour who has tended to be cast in supporting roles, taking the lead as Eliza? About freakin' time. Having strong First Nations representation in our Hamilton company is glorious and important."

I loved it so much and was completely enthralled from start to finish

For Mary Nguyen, seeing the Australian cast made the show resonate in a way that seeing the show in New York hadn't. "I don't have a good memory of watching the show for the first time in NYC, but I do remember being super excited to have gotten an elusive ticket and being in the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and being super impressed and wowed by the cast, music, lyrics, staging and choreography of Hamilton."

Mary Nguyen at Hamilton
Photograph: Mary NguyenMary Nguyen at Hamilton

But she says it was the Australian cast that really made her fall in love with the show. "When I saw Hamilton Australia for the first time in Sydney from my second row stalls seat, I loved it so much and was completely enthralled from start to finish... Everything about Hamilton astounds me, especially our amazing Aussie cast, including all the principals, main ensemble, standbys and swings. I love how the cast is so multicultural."

She was so in love, in fact, that Nguyen ended up seeing the Sydney production a whopping 34 times, including seven times in its final week. She also helped others fall in love with the show, giving away seven tickets to strangers on Facebook. 

A man and a child wearing shirts that say Young, Scrappy and Hungry
Photograph: Richard AnnableRichard Annable and daughter Riley

For Richard Annable, it was the Disney+ version that hooked him. "For the following months it was pretty much the only music I listened to, and I always had it on the TV, much to the chagrin of my wife. I watched it at least five times per week for a great number of weeks."

But nothing could compare to seeing it on stage in Sydney. "When the tickets first went on sale we had three computers logged in to be sure I could see the show when I wanted to. I booked tickets for the Saturday night and Sunday matinee in June, on the weekend before my 50th birthday." Like Gardiner, Annable loved the live performance so much he bought another ticket immediately, for the same Sunday evening show. 

"On Disney+ the director showed you what he wanted you to focus on at that point, which was great," he says. "But seeing it live, there was no such direction and I often found myself looking off to the side when the action was clearly happening elsewhere."

He has tickets to see the Melbourne production at least three times, but as to how many more tickets he hopes to buy? "I'm not sure I can answer that honestly without causing my family to disown me."

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