BWW Interview: HAMILTON's Phillipa Soo Talks the Brilliance of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Finding 'Eliza', and More!
As BroadwayWorld reported last week, the Public Theater recently announced a third extension for the world premiere production of Hamilton. Inspired by the book "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow, with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Thomas Kail, Hamilton will now run an additional four weeks through Sunday, May 3 with an official press opening on Tuesday, February 17.
From the creative team behind the Tony Award-winning In The Heights comes a wildly inventive new musical about the scrappy young immigrant who forever changed America: Alexander Hamilton. Tony and Grammy Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda wields his pen and takes the stage as the unlikely founding father determined to make his mark on a new nation as hungry and ambitious as he is. From bastard orphan to Washington's right hand man, rebel to war hero, loving husband caught in the country's first sex scandal to Treasury head who made an untrusting world believe in the American economy, Hamilton is an exploration of a political mastermind. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Eliza Hamilton, and lifelong Hamilton friend and foe, Aaron Burr, all attend this revolutionary tale of America's fiery past told through the sounds of the ever-changing nation we've become. Tony Award nominee Thomas Kail directs this new musical about taking your shot, speaking your mind, and turning the world upside down.
Phillipa Soo, who plays Eliza Hamilton in the new musical just chatted with BroadwayWorld about the rehearsal process, sharing the stage with Lin-Manuel Miranda, and so much more. Check out the full interview below!
How have previews been going so far?
Great! We've been doing them since January 21. It's a crazy time because we're not only doing the performances at night, but going in during the day and having rehearsals. So we're tweaking the show and trying to spend this time creating the best show possible before we open.
I'd imagine that working on this kind of project is an actor's dream... what has the process been like for you?
Oh, it's definitely been a dream. I've been so fortunate to be able to work in a room of these wonderful, creative minds and get to collaborate with them. I feel so elated to be there every single day. And it's such a great cast. The Public Theater has been so supportive.
It's a new story that hasn't been told before. It's the voices of these people who are from our own American history and we get to bring them to light in our own way. It's just the coolest thing to be a part of.
For those who aren't familiar with the history of this story, how would you describe how Eliza fits in?
Eliza was Hamilton's wife. They were very much... I use this phrase a lot when describing them, but I think Ron Chernow put it the best... he said that she was the oil to his vinegar. He had all of this fervor and had all of these ideas and was constantly writing. Especially in the play, she's the one that's always saying, "Look around. Take a little time. Stay. Pause for a second." She was there for him in a way that helped him find that balance in his life. I think they had a really beautiful relationship. While she was there to take care of the family and take care of him, she found him so inspiring and was so enthralled by his talent.
Did you do any of your own research on her after you found out that you got the part?
I went to Washington D.C. because my cousin lives there right now. I definitely went there for the eighth grade field trip, but at that point I was really just concerned with getting an FBI T-shirt. [Laughs] So I feel like I didn't really take it in as much as I could have. I think at that age you are just excited to be going on a trip without your parents. So I went back in the fall and saw all of the museums, and went to Congress, and went to the Washington Monument. It's such a beautifully laid out city. To think that this was what they were all striving for... basically the whole city is now a monument to what they were trying to accomplish.
I'm also in the middle of finishing the Ron Chernow biography. He's been very gracious in being a part of this process. I think it's been very exciting for him to watch this happen. Linn basically read the Chernow biography and was like, "I think I would like to write something!" So Ron has been there. I've had a few conversations with Ron about Eliza. There are some excerpts from letters and things that Hamilton wrote to Eliza that she sent over, so I dug into that. It's mostly all from the biography though, because it's so extensive. I feel like I've gotten so much research through it.
What has it been like working with Lin as both a fellow actor and the creative mastermind of this project?
We have a great time. On the one hand, we are all working very hard. I'm amazed at how fast he's able to write, and how wonderfully complicated, and deep, and poetic it all is. I discover something new in his writing every time that I hear the show. I'll just be like, "Oh, I never heard that one before!" Something new is always sticking out to me. It's brilliant.
At the same time though, he's just this guy who had a passion for something and wanted to write what he knew. He did that with [IN THE] HEIGHTS, and I think that this time he's coming at it from a place where he wants to get back as much as he's putting out. He has a lot to say, but at the same time I think we are all learning and growing from each other. It's been very collaborative in that sense. He's definitely steering the ship. It's really inspiring and I feel so lucky to be in such good company. It makes me want to do more! How is he able to do everything that he does in the span of one day? [Laughs] I always ask myself this question! And still he has time to hang out, and be very positive in everything that he does?
When IN THE HEIGHTS happened it gave the world of musical theatre something totally new and fresh. Do you think this show will do the same?
Definitely! I think especially with how diverse the cast is. I mean that in all senses of the word too. We're clearly racially and culturally diverse, but there's not one person that I would say, "Oh, you remind me of..." There are all very special and unique people. And they are VERY talented and very smart. I feel like it's such an amazing group of people who have very different stories and who come from very different places. I look at our cast and think, "Where did we even all come from?" I think that everyone feels that on a day-to-day basis. Just, "Wow, how did we end up here? Isn't it great that we're here together? In what world is this possible?" And then you're like, "Oh yeah, in Lin's world." That's the coolest part.
I think to say that this show is highly-anticipated is a gross understatement... what do you think people should be most excited for? What are you most excited for audiences to experience?
I feel like I'm excited for people to see these historical figures that we have maybe read about, or read about and forgotten about in our history classes, and to actually look at them as being real people with real stories. They lived and breathed. He is buried in Trinity church! And we have Hamilton Heights! That's where I lived when I graduated from school, but it's also where he lived. I love hearing what people have to say in terms of how surprised they are at how much of the history they were not aware of. We know the facts, but are we able to feel the struggle and the drive that these people had? I think that's something that you can't necessarily get from reading a textbook. You can if you're a brilliant historian, but for most people I think you feel really distant form these people. This brings a new light to this experience.
Soo recently appeared Off-Broadway in Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812 and has appeared regionally in School For Wives. Her television credits include "SMASH" and "Keep the Change."
The complete cast features Carleigh Bettiol (Ensemble); Andrew Chappelle (Swing); Ariana DeBose (Ensemble); Alysha Deslorieux (Swing); Daveed Diggs (Marquis De Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson); Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler); Sydney James Harcourt (Ensemble); Sasha Hutchings (Ensemble); Christopher Jackson (George Washington); Brian d'Arcy James (King George); Thayne Jasperson (Ensemble); Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy Schuyler, Maria Reynolds); Stephanie Klemons (Swing); Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton); Javier Muñoz (Hamilton Standby); Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr); Okieriete Onaodowan (Hercules Mulligan, James Madison); Anthony Ramos (John Laurens, Phillip Hamilton); Jon Rua (Ensemble); Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton); Seth Stewart (Ensemble); Betsy Struxness (Ensemble); Ephraim Sykes (Ensemble); and Voltaire Wade-Greene (Swing).
Public Theater Member tickets, starting at $85, and single tickets, starting at $120, are available now by calling (212) 967-7555, www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. A limited number of $20 tickets, subject to availability, will be distributed via a lottery in the lobby of The Public Theater. For full details on the lottery, please visit publictheater.org. These tickets are $20, cash only, with a limit of two tickets per person.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus