BWW Interview - Debut of the Month: HAMILTON's Phillipa Soo

By: Aug. 20, 2015
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The last time BWW checked in with actress Phillipa Soo she was in the midst of previews for Hamilton's off-Broadway run at the Public Theatre. Now, the show has come full circle, officially opening at Broadway's Richard Rodgers theater on August 6th.

The Lortel Award winner makes her debut as Eliza Hamilton, wife of the $10 Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, in the acclaimed new Broadway musical. Today, she speaks exclusively with BWW and fills us in on the exciting events which have transpired over the past several months.

You are a graduate of Julliard's drama program so I'm wondering if you are surprised that your professional career thus far has taken the musical theater path.

Yes, I definitely think when coming out of Julliard I felt very vulnerable and had no idea what to expect in terms of when I would start working, or what types of jobs I would do, if I would end up in LA or stay in New York. And I found it surprising, but also really not surprising that I would end up doing musical theater just because I do love music and theater so much and telling a story through song was always a very important thing for me when I was in school. So I've been so glad that that's where my path has taken me. It's just been really, really fun and wonderful.

How did you first become involved with the show?

I got a call from Thomas Kail, the director, and he asked me to join him on a reading of Act 2 that they were doing. And I had remembered seeing the video of Lin performing at the White House in 2009 I think, it's a video of him doing that first rap. Someone had shown it to me when I was still in school, and I remember thinking, 'Oh my gosh, that was so awesome!' And then cut to years later, they were like, 'yeah, do you remember that video? Well this is that show!" And I was like, 'Oh, that's amazing. And who do you want me to play again?' And when they told me it was Eliza Hamilton, I went, 'Oh great! Who is she?' I really had no idea about who she was.

Most people don't I'm sure.

Oh yeah, which I think is kind of the powerful thing about what we learn about her in the show. But it was that first reading of Act 2 that I joined them, and then more officially I did a reading in January of 2014, it was the first time that the whole piece was being performed and we were at music stands. So that was the beginning of my involvement with the show.

So at that point in time, did you have any inclination that it would become the phenomenon that it has become?

Yeah, I mean I knew about the talents of Lin and Tommy [Kail] and Andy [Blankenbuehler] and Alex [Lacamoire] and because of the success of 'Heights' I was eager to work with them, but it was when I really got into the room with them, that I was like, 'Oh, this is a magical room to be in!' The way that these guys are able to work together and create work was really inspiring to me and I was just really excited to be in that creative space with them.

And also for me personally, just learning about Eliza and her story and the love she had for Hamilton and the love that the creators had for this particular story, it just seemed like everybody, from the characters in the story to the creative team making the story, were really passionate about it. So I was very drawn to that from the beginning and knew that it was a very special and unique thing to be a part of.

Speaking of your character, do you find there are similarities with Eliza that you bring to your performance?

Definitely. I think that because I didn't really know very much about her going into it, all I really did was bring myself to that. And I really relate to the love that she had for Alexander and for her family. I also really relate to the idea of needing to take time. There's a song I sing in the show called, "That Would Be Enough" where she is asking Hamilton to just stay with her for a moment and look around. And for me especially, coming out of school, and I'm growing up for the past 8 years, moving to New York, there's this idea that you have to get somewhere and you have to accomplish whatever goals that you have set for yourself, and I think that from Eliza I learned a lot about taking time to look around and take time to have gratitude and to appreciate the things that are happening around you before you miss them.

I also loved the relationship between Eliza and her sisters. They were such powerful women, despite the constraints of the time period that they lived in.

Yes, it was not really a surprise to me that she was forgotten in history because of the time period, but I think that there was such strength in these particular women because they grew up in a well-educated household, their father was Senator Schuyler, so they were pretty well versed in politics and were pretty worldly. And as all of these men were off at war fighting, these women were in charge of the household, but we just don't hear about that because we chose not to tell their stories, but they do exist. And it's so wonderful that Lin and Ron have put Eliza in this light of being the storyteller, who tells both her own story as well as Hamilton's story. And the relationship I have with the two women who play my sisters is very special, because to me, they are incredible and inspiring women and I think to Eliza, her sisters were also inspiring to each other. And that love they had for each other was a very strong, sisterly bond.

Eliza also has such an emotional journey throughout the show, and experiences so much heartbreak. How do you prepare yourself emotionally to go through that each night? Do you have a routine that you go through or does it happen more organically?

I'm fortunate in that I've had a lot of training, and because of that, I'm able to go to those places and then get out of those places pretty easily. But it's a different thing everyday. The writing is so great that it does a lot of the work for me, but I know that for myself, sometimes I need a little bit of time to decompress afterwards or before and then other times it doesn't make any difference at all. So it's a day by day kind of thing.

Was it difficult to learn the material for the show?

Not really. I've loved music my entire life, and I grew up playing the piano and I lived in a very musical household, so while it definitely asks a lot of skill of the actor, it's so well done that once you learn the music and learn the rhythm, it soon becomes a part of you and it really flows with the rest of the story. You know, now it's almost like second nature to me, so I'm trying to think back to the first time that I was learning these songs and was trying to connect the inner tissue and the fabric and the inner workings to try to get it into my body, because it was something that definitely challenged me, but was also very exciting.

Can you share what it was like to make your Broadway debut in Hamilton?

Well I consider the first preview, on July 13th, to be more of the debut night than the opening night, just because it was the first time on that stage with an audience and I was very emotional and nervous beforehand. But then the next day, coming in and doing it again it was like, 'Oh, this is our show. We're going to be doing this for a long time!"

But it was definitely so thrilling and just overwhelming and I had a lot of support from my loved ones who were there that night, and it was really, really special to be able to share that moment with everyone. You know, it wasn't just my own experience, it was the experience for the handful of other people who were doing their debuts, who I was so excited for, and everybody else who was witnessing that. So it was a very special night and I'm so happy that it all happened this way!

About Phillipa Soo:

Phillipa Soo's off-Broadway credits include Hamilton at the Public Theater (Drama Desk Award for Best Musical); Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 (Ars Nova, Kazino, world premiere). Regional credits include A Little Night Music (Berkshire Theatre Group), School for Wives (Two River Theater). Film/TV credits include "Dangerous Liasons" (pilot), "Smash" (NBC).

Soo is the recipient of The Actors' Equity Foundation's 2015 Clarence Derwent Awards for most promising female performer and the 2015 Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical.

About Hamilton:

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: AlexanderHamilton. Tony, Grammy, and Emmy 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, ElizaHamilton, 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. Hamilton is the recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award."

More information on Hamilton is available at the official site here.

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