An all-Korean ensemble on-stage during a performance of the musical Hamilton in Korea


‘Hamilton’ in Korean?

The hit musical Hamilton breathed renewed vitality into American history. But what about a Korean-language version for a Korean audience? How does it translate? Here’s the backstage scoop from a Spider in the cast.
Eden Kim, ’21

It debuted in New York City in January of 2015 and immediately became a box office smash. Nine years later, Hamilton is still the hottest musical in the country.

Fans lucky enough to secure seats to a Broadway show rival Charlie with his golden ticket. Fortunately for Richmonders, the tour production of the musical now stops at Altria Theater. Self-proclaimed superfan Eden Kim, ’21 (inset and on the far right above), says she fell in love with the show in 2018 and was in the audience when it came to town a year later. That’s why she jumped at the chance to be part of a special production of Hamilton when it was performed in a community theater in Seoul, South Korea.

“Being part of Hamilton was a dream come true,” says Kim. “I’ve listened to the soundtrack countless times, so I already had all the music learned. The challenge was learning the lyrics in Korean.”

Kim was born and raised in the United States and says she grew up culturally American. After graduating from Richmond, she moved to Korea to teach English to students at an after-school academy in Suwon, outside of Seoul, and learn more about her heritage. She has spent more than two years there submersing in her Korean roots.

In late 2023, a friend told Kim about a Korean community theater production of Hamilton. She said the show desperately needed ensemble members and, knowing Kim was a big fan, encouraged her to join. It didn’t take much convincing: Kim majored in leadership studies with a minor in music. To paraphrase a line from the play, Kim was not throwing away her shot, and she soon became one of two Americans in the cast.

To say Hamilton is entertaining is an understatement. Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda did what had not been done, putting a hip-hop beat to U.S. revolutionary history lessons while weaving in the story of an underdog. On top of that, he added dancing, singing, and rapping while also intentionally using a multicultural cast to represent America’s current diverse makeup.

So how does it all work in Korean?

“To be honest, I don’t think the Korean audience fully understood the Hamilton story,” Kim said. “During one of the rehearsals, the other American and I tried to explain more of the historical context of the story, particularly the role of slavery.”

Kim also noticed a difference in audience participation, expecting the interaction and applause common in the U.S. But that is not the social norm in Korea. Instead, patrons held their applause until the end of the show.

“The shows with mainly Koreans in the audience were quieter,” said Kim. “Most of the international people in the audience were friends of the few of us non-native Koreans in the cast. Our friends cheered the loudest. Ultimately, though, I heard that everyone enjoyed the performances.”

Kim appeared in four shows and is now heading back to the United States to consider graduate school. “Even though I lived in Korea for almost two-and-a-half years, this was the first time I was in a social group composed of mainly native Koreans,” said Kim. “I’m glad I got to experience the culture in a social setting. I hope I inspired them to travel abroad, too.”