Performing in the national spotlight is far from a passing phase for Julian Kuo, whose dedication to his craft since a young age has been rewarded with a prized place in the Australian cast of Hamilton.
“I don’t think that Hamilton is ever going to be one little show. It’s a massive beast and it’s become this massive pop culture phenomenon, which is very unusual for us in musical theatre,” Julian said.
“We are used to doing things that are very niche or very much things that we know and we love, but other people don’t. And so this has been a real roller-coaster because we are not used to this many people loving the work that we do.
“It’s really, really touching to see audiences react the way they do and it’s just a really wonderful thing to be a part of.”
The multi-award winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda is winding up its Australian run with the Brisbane season ending on April 23.
One of the many great quirks of the show is that it relies heavily on rap as well as sung lyrics to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton—one of America’s founding fathers. It also features a diverse cast from a range of cultural backgrounds.
Such is the dedication of fans to the show that they have become something of a tribe, known universally as the Hamil-fam or Hamilfans.
Before the show continues on its worldwide run, Julian reflects with us on Streets of Your Town, what it’s like to be part of a musical held in such esteem, that many of these Hamil-fans know more about the show’s intricacies than the cast.
“They’re wonderful and it really is a testament to the quality of the work and to what the work does that it brings these people in,” he said.
“And it doesn’t just entertain in the moment, but it hooks people because of what the show says and what the show stands for.
“We talk in this show and in the casting process about equality and about opening up opportunities for people and about standing for things that are larger than ourselves.
“People feel like they’re represented, people feel like they’re seen. And on top of that, it’s featuring music and stylistically art forms that people actually genuinely love and connect with in popular culture as well.
“I think that it’s so important that these stories modernise with where we are today and seeing our Australian society reflected on that stage. It’s so revitalising because we are seeing these situations reflected in our work. And for a long time it hasn’t been.”
Julian has arguably one of the most difficult roles in the cast, as swing.
“A swing is essentially an offstage cast member—so what I do is while the show is running, I’m backstage in case people get injured or ill and can’t continue, and then I step into those shoes,” he said.
“So I cover a numerous different number of people and depending on the structure and who else is out and who else is sick and who else might have leave, the creative team essentially pull together a cast for that evening’s show.
“The hard part really is when you’re doing choreography and when you’re doing music, you’re not learning one set of that choreography or one set of that music. So we have 50 songs in this show approximately. It’s sung through and so there’s never any dialogue. And so you’re learning essentially 50 different set of harmonies, 50 different sets of lyrics, 50 different sets of choreography of blocking for every role you do.
“The reality is that part of our job is that whenever we’re called to do it, we have to be ready to do it, we’ve got to be ready. And so that rehearsal that we do underneath the show or when the show is running and maintaining of that information, that’s really our job. Our job is to maintain the information so that when we are needed, we can go on and do it right away.”
As well as learning half a dozen parts in his role as a swing, Julian is also the cast representative for the worldwide Hamilton social justice initiatives Ham4Progress and the Racial Justice Taskforce.
And as he explains, being such a pivotal part of giving back to the communities that both inspired Hamilton and supported its success, has been one of his greatest rewards.
“Definitely, definitely. I mean, social justice in general and politics in general has always been something that I’ve cared about and that I’ve respected,” he said.
“Ham4Progress is essentially the social justice wing of Hamilton as a brand, as a show.
“We have done numerous fundraising campaigns in Australia as part of or as at least under the umbrella of Ham4Progress. We fundraised last year for the ASRC, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in Melbourne. And that was a really wonderful, wonderful, wonderful experience.
“We’re telling an immigrant story, so that contribution to those issues is so important. It’s so important for me personally, at least as part of this organisation, to really push for Australian issues as well.
“Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the show, said this wonderful thing when he was talking about the creating of writing in the first place. He says that he was reading Ron Chernow’s book about Hamilton, and he thought that this is a hip-hop story. It’s about an immigrant. It’s about someone who fights for everything that they have.
“And when you associate that with the modern stories of our hip hop artists that we know and we love today, there are so many parallels between them that yeah, you look at it going, yeah, it’s literally a hip hop story. It’s that underdog story that someone’s rising up to fight against their disadvantages to become successful.”