Lin-Manuel Miranda embodies the pa’lante attitude that has gotten many Puerto Ricans like me through dark times. That same attitude didn’t slow him down amidst the postponement of the In the Heights film and Broadway’s shutdown. In fact, it’s what made #HamilFilm premiere a year ahead of schedule.
A musical about a founding father that put performers of color front and center when it first opened in 2015, Hamilton has been making room for both triumph and pain on stage. It’s what led Miranda to take the show to the island to help soothe Puerto Rico’s agony after Hurricane María. In 2020, the smash hit finds itself carrying the weight of a global pandemic and the pain of those fighting for Black people’s collective liberation. But thanks to Disney+, a new generation of viewers will experience Hamilton for the first time, making this groundbreaking production accessible in a way its theatrical one could never be. As Miranda stated during a press conference for the Disney+ release, “more people will see Hamilton between July third and fifth than have ever seen it before.”
“We always said we wanted to democratize the world seeing this company doing this show, and it just felt like a good opportunity, and it happens almost exactly on the five-year anniversary that we filmed it, which is even more extraordinary.”
“The gift of doing that work back then, is that now in this moment where there is no theater, we have the gift of this show and the snapshot of this moment and I’m really grateful for that,” admitted Miranda.
The 2016 presidential election made Hamilton, and its casting, in particular, feel more powerful and poignant. But it also granted its original company fame and notoriety. Tony nominee Christopher Jackson (Moana, Bull), who played George Washington, was already a well-known stage actor and one of Miranda’s collaborators when Hamilton brought him back to Broadway.
“The show has given me a greater platform but most of all, humility because somebody else could’ve been playing George Washington, and that’s not lost on me. Performing for someone like President Obama who holds such sway culturally and politically and being a part of conversations with the likes of folks like that has always been very gratifying and very important,” Jackson tells Remezcla.
Anthony Ramos’ debut performance as Phillip Hamilton and John Laurens proved to be pivotal for him. “I had done Damn Yankees, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever regionally, so the music was like nothing I had heard in a musical. It was wild to see our names on the Billboard charts next to artists you see frequently like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. It was just dope being part of a musical that crossed over in so many ways.”
Ramos has gone to play Usnavi, the protagonist and narrator in the feature film adaptation of In the Heights, star in Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born and release his album The Good & The Bad. “In the Heights was the first time I heard people singing and rapping, and the music felt like music that I listened to throughout my life. It was really awesome to know the person who originated this role and now I had the chance to play it.”
Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo and Jasmine Cephas Jones starred as the pivotal women in Alexander Hamilton’s life. Soo, a Tony nominee for her work on the show, originated the role of Eliza, Hamilton’s wife and steadfast supporter, just a few years out of Juilliard.
Audiences first meet Eliza as a teenager – a devoted daughter, a loving sister and a newlywed during the American Revolution. They also see her go from wronged wife to grieving mother. These proved to be unique undertakings for Soo.
“A lot of their stories about women in history from that time is that a lot of their stories are told through the eyes of men. These were real women with just as many aspirations and hopes and dreams, and we’re just as vocal and interested and curious in the world and we can’t forget that. They were living in different times with different parameters, but they were striving for change. That burning fire within them is the same fire that we see in women and people who identify as women today.”
Angelica Schuyler, a role that won Goldsberry a Tony award, is a spirited and fiercely intelligent woman looking for “a mind at work.” The actress recalls feeling honored, excited and “at times silly,” when telling Angelica’s story. “I can be at my best when I’m looking at the relationships that the character has with other people and how to serve that.”
“At the end of the day,” she adds, “the saving grace for playing Angelica was to stand on the stage with that company of people and support them in what they’re doing in the way that Angelica Schuyler supported those historical figures. That made me the most confident and gave me the greatest joy.”
Soo credits Miranda for establishing a sense of camaraderie across the board since he’s “the embodiment of ‘energy begets energy.’” The emotional connection she shares with her castmates made her job easier than it appeared. “Even when we were all really tired, and we had done the show hundreds of times at that point, Lin was always there to keep everything going and always had the energy to go the extra mile. I really admired that, and when I was feeling a bit tired or low, I’d certainly look to him for that boost of energy,” Soo notes.
Ramos sounds off by saying that his favorite thing about working with Miranda is “the trust he has for the people that he decides to surround himself with and collaborate with.”
“He doesn’t give anything away with a clenched fist. He gives us his talent and creativity and is confident in our ability to tell this story that he’s written.”
In a post-Obama world, where the “Black Lives Matter” movement has itself begat campaigns like “We See You, White American Theater,” Hamilton’s original company find themselves turning to the tenets of social action embedded in the show to push the theatrical industry and society at large to become more thoughtful and inclusive.
“We’re having those conversations now, we’re not only convicting the people that are obviously trying to stop diversity and change. We’re trying to look at ourselves and say, ‘I believe these things and I’m complicit so what can I do to make this better as a Black woman? What can I do? Who do I hire to work on my team?’” explains Goldsberry.
Hamilton can’t singlehandedly right industry wrongs. But its cast hopes to breathe a new fighting spirit into people all over the country. At its core, the musical is about bringing everyone’s strengths to the table, inspiring unbridled hope and fearlessness, and matching that with the unwavering tenacity behind the pa’lante attitude that can further help us change the world. Nobody can deny that the theater has these elements, especially when people of color are at the forefront.
As Goldsberry puts it: “If we don’t start with ourselves, you can’t really ask anything from anybody else.”