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The Tony, Grammy, Olivier, and Pulitzer Prize winning musical is now showing at Sands Theatre in Marina Bay Sands IMAGE: DANIEL BOUD

Hamilton: What’s In It For Singaporeans?

Imagine showing Americans a three-hour musical about the life and times of Dr. Goh Keng Swee, Singapore's first Minister of Finance. That’s how I felt persuading my husband, a born-and-bred Singaporean who associates the name "Hamilton" with F1, to give a biographical musical about the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, a chance. 

To be fair, a musical about the man whose face adorns the $10 bill is a hard sell if you're indifferent about US history. What could possibly warrant an entire show about his life when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin are right there?


(Well, for one thing - and this isn’t a spoiler, it happened 220 years ago and is revealed in the opening song - Alexander Hamilton was shot in a duel by a former colleague-turned-political opponent. Intrigued yet? No? Okay, keep reading.) 

My husband eventually listened to the original cast recording a couple of times, citing his love for music and his curiosity about the pop culture hype as the reason he caved. Fast-forward to last Thursday, when I brought him as my date to Hamilton’s premiere in Singapore, where he spent most of the show transfixed. That is, transfixed but confused. 

Some questions he asked me during the intermission and in the car afterward:

"What led up to the Revolutionary War?"
“Explain to me the thing between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.”
“Why couldn’t George Washington have been president for longer?”
“Who was the French guy?” 

I don’t relay all this to imply that he’s ignorant or is emblematic of everyone who is unfamiliar with American history, but I do it to emphasise that the show’s historical and cultural context - its worldbuilding, if you will - is legitimately bewildering if you go into it totally blind. Watching Hamilton without knowing anything about the Revolutionary War and its aftermath is akin to watching Dune: Part Two without watching Dune or having read any of the books. You might still have a good time, but you’ll also wish you’d have scrolled through Wikipedia beforehand. 

I have a feeling that the people around me also went in cold. One of the show's most iconic lines, “Immigrants - we get the job done” elicited just a smattering of gentle cheers, while I spotted more than one person scrolling through Whatsapp during the expository numbers. (Although to the audience’s credit, I didn’t hear any complaints or spot anyone falling asleep.) 


You’d think he would have felt overwhelmed, but in spite of his confusion, my husband actually had a good time. The key to his enjoyment: “turning off his brain” and letting himself get swept up in the music and the overarching human story. 

Because while yes, the story is heavily interested in politics and history, at its heart is a tale about ambition, forgiveness, and loss. Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant orphan from the Caribbean, would do anything to create and secure his legacy, be it climbing the social ladder or hurting the people he loves to preserve his reputation. While watching some of my favourite scenes on YouTube, I spotted a comment saying that Hamilton is 70% in-jokes and meta references, and 30% pure emotional devastation, and I can't help but agree. Amidst all of the zingers about things like the Southern Democratic-Republicans are lines laden with idealism and poignancy: 

“Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”
“Love doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints. It takes and it takes and it takes, and we keep loving anyway.” 
“What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you’ll never get to see.”


While the surrounding material might be a little dense, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of the Compromise of 1790 or The Federalist Papers to feel moved when the characters have it all, lose it all, and ponder over “who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”. That’s a question anyone can grapple with, regardless of whether they’re Singaporean or American. Give the ten-dollar Founding Father a chance, and you’ll find that there’s much that resonates amidst all of the details that you might find irrelevant to our day-to-day Singaporean existence. But if you’d like to maximise your enjoyment of the show, here are some tips before/after you go: 

Do a bit of pre-reading

Hamilton does not assume prior knowledge of American history, so if you want to go in totally prepared, you can read  the book that inspired the musical. But at over 830 pages, it’s pretty chonky, so here are my recommendations if you want to “study” a bit without feeling like you’re preparing for an exam:

Drunk History’s retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s most salacious scandal (bonus, it features Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda)
CrashCourse: Tea, Taxes, and The American Revolution

And if all else fails, there’s no better time to spiral down a Wikipedia rabbit hole while you’re waiting for the show to start. 

Watch Hamilton on Disney+ with subtitles

The extent to which you enjoy Hamilton will largely hinge on your ability to catch all of the sung dialogue. Maybe my ears aren’t attuned to the acoustics of a live performance, but I could hardly make out the lines in Act I, especially the one rapped by the French-accented Marquis de Lafayette. Familiarise yourself with Lin Manuel-Miranda’s witticisms - and again, with all of the exposition - before going in, so you can focus on the story, performances, and choreography instead of straining your ears to catch the dialogue. 

Hate spoilers? Listen to the Original Broadway Cast Recording instead

As someone who falls into this category, I’m glad that watching it live provided me with a few visual gags that I couldn’t possibly catch over Spotify. At the same time, listening to it in the car on the way home will help you fill in a few Easter eggs and bits of dialogue that you missed during the performance. 


Watch Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
Yeah, I know, Hamilton is about America's Founding Fathers, but their nemesis - Great Britain's King George - steals the show with his nine-minute appearance. Consider my mind blown when I realised that Hamilton's sputtering despot is the same king as the one depicted so dreamily in Shonda Rhimes' Bridgerton prequel. If you can't get enough of King George, check out Queen Charlotte to see a wildly different interpretation of the fan favourite! 

Hamilton will run at the Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands until 9 June 2024
Tickets are available for booking on SISTIC 
Find out more about Hamilton here

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