Filipina actress Rachelle Ann Go on her 'dream' Hamilton role and performing in Abu Dhabi

Stage star explains how things are different this time, while musical director Alex Lacamoire addresses controversies surrounding the show

Rachelle Ann Go in Hamilton. Courtesy Hamilton West End
Powered by automated translation

It was a dream come true for Rachelle Ann Go to reprise her starring role in the Asia tour of the Broadway hit Hamilton, the Filipina actress tells The National.

Go had already checked off a career bucket list entry when she played the part of Eliza Schuyler in the West End production of Lin-Manuel Miranda's American musical. But the Asia tour was more poignant because it gave her the opportunity to perform in her home country of the Philippines.

“When I first played the role in the West End production in 2017, I had this vision that, one day, Hamilton will come to the Philippines,” says Go.

It was a full-circle moment for the actress, 37, when she received a call in 2022 from Michael Cassel Group, the company behind the show's international tour, to hop into the shoes of Eliza once more – this time in her home country.

Despite her prophecies, Go admits she was anxious to take the job because she was pregnant with her second child at the time.

“Am I going to be able to sing the songs? Am I going to be fit for the role? There were so many doubts and fears,” she explains, eventually saying yes. “Of course, that's home. I need to be there. I want to share this amazing story to my people.”

The show ran in Manila from September to November last year. Now, Go is in Abu Dhabi, home to a sizeable Filipino expatriate community, to continue the international tour until February 11.

“I had fun doing it again in Manila, so I said yes to Abu Dhabi. It's been nice discovering this country with my husband and two children. They are here with me for the tour,” she says.

Go plays one of the major characters in the show, the wife of the titular role Alexander Hamilton. She appears in many of the biggest moments, with a few solo numbers including Burn, where the climax of her character development ensues.

“She's been through a lot,” Go says of Eliza, making it one of the show's more emotionally demanding roles. It doesn't help that Philippa Soo, along with the original Broadway cast that included Miranda himself, really carved her signature in the role with her piercing vocals.

Despite playing the role back in 2017, Go admits she still seeks the guidance of directors time and again in “navigating her story, particularly in Burn, where she's the only person on stage”.

The actress, who had gained a sizeable amount of celebrity in the Philippines before her international gig, said she resonates with Eliza's “strong character as a woman”, and channels her past experiences to give justice to the performance.

Before landing the Hamilton role in 2017, Go had completed several West End stints. In 2014, she played the role of Gigi Van Tranh in Miss Saigon. She was then cast as Fantine in Les Miserables for its rerun the following year.

The actress says between 2017 and now, she's picked up many life experiences that helped her give a more nuanced portrayal of Eliza.

“It's a different take now,” she says. “Now that I'm a wife and a mother, I understand Eliza's experiences better.”

The Hamilton legacy

The success of the 2015 production is difficult to overstate, with 11 Tony trophies under its belt. Miranda wrote the music, lyrics and script over seven years, starting in 2009.

It tells the story of American founding father Hamilton, from his days at King's College in New York in 1776 to becoming the first US treasury secretary and his eventual death in 1804. Miranda based it on the 2004 book, Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow.

A huge part of its cultural resonance comes from the fact that it's heavily influenced by hip-hop, a rare occurrence on Broadway at the time of its release. There are also sprinkles of mainstream pop, R&B and soul in the 46-track show, making it more accessible to audiences who aren't traditional theatre buffs.

Although it was hugely successful in the West, the Abu Dhabi tour was another way to test its universality, especially with the UAE welcoming more international musicals to the country in recent years.

Alex Lacamoire, the show's music director, orchestrator and conductor, was in Abu Dhabi during the first days of its run in the capital. It's his first time in the Middle East and he was curious to see how the show would be received in the region.

Asked how he has stayed hands-on even years after the show hit Broadway in 2015, he says: “I love the show so much. I care about it so much. There's something about the joy I get being able to give notes to the cast, and being able to see their performances.”

The success didn't come without criticism, however. There have been many discussions about how the show could have discussed more important points in American history, such as slavery. There has also been criticism of the show's casting choices.

On these, Lacamoire tells The National: “It's hard to talk about everything all at once in a three-hour musical.

“It was not anyone's wish to belittle anyone, to offend or insult anyone by shining a light on something, something's going to be left in the dark, and that is a shame”.

He says he believes they did their best to “tell the story we wanted to tell, based on the goal we were trying to achieve”.

Despite this, Hamilton is billed to be one of the most successful, both critically and commercially, modern musicals and busy, popular nights at the Etihad Arena night per night might be a good barometer of its regional appeal.

Updated: January 31, 2024, 7:47 AM