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Humanizing the $10 Founding Father: Understudy Jon Rua Talks Being Born to Play HAMILTON

Humanizing the $10 Founding Father: Understudy Jon Rua Talks Being Born to Play HAMILTON

It's an understudy's dream. Or maybe nightmare.

Jon Rua received the call that he would be going on as Alexander Hamilton the morning of the show. Without a proper put-in rehearsal, he rushed to the Richard Rodgers to take on the title role of the hottest ticket in town for the first time.

"I can only explain it as... It was a deep breath," Rua elaborates that he ran the gamut of emotions before performing in Hamilton that day, from "intense, thrilling, nerve-racking, emotional, and calm."

As the Alexander Hamilton understudy, Rua's opportunities to take on the role depend on vacations or unexpected circumstances, but his usual ensemble track includes a featured role as General Charles Lee. (You know, that guy on the cast recording with the epic delivery of the line, "...go back to planting tobacco in MOUNT VERNON!")

For those who have the rare chance to see Rua step into the shoes of the role usually played by Lin-Manuel Miranda and alternate Javier Munoz, they see that Rua has a different spin on the character. He says he distinguishes his portrayal by bringing his own personal transparency to Alexander.

Humanizing the $10 Founding Father: Understudy Jon Rua Talks Being Born to Play HAMILTON
Rua as Usnavi in IN THE HEIGHTS on Broadway

"Someone has said that my performance was 'so human.' I would say the level of humanity I bring to Hamilton is so specifically me. I know him, and I know the world I live in as Hamilton and where the character is going. If I had to find words I would reference some from a director friend of mine that listed his impression on what my Hamilton would be like: Passionate, Angry, Romantic, Youthful, Relentless, Complicated, Powerful, Kinetic."

Rua has now lead Hamilton eight times, but his first performance in the role came with its own twists and turns from forgetting some lyrics, to finding his love for the show all over again.

As might be expected of a debut performance in a new role, the evening did not go off without a hitch. "Right after I finished the scene prior to 'Take a Break,' I was putting my prop glasses away for the first time ever, searching for a pocket in my coat, getting to my seat, setting up props to work with, and by that time I thought, 'Wait, this is the Angelica song,' which it isn't necessarily. She's part of the song. I then realized my brain was trying to search for the words, and the song had already begun." Missing his first few lyrics in the number, he got back on track almost immediately. "Now I know why I was thinking what I was thinking, and more importantly, I had to recall what word I could use to jump straight into the rest of the phrase. I came in by, 'tomorrow creeps in this petty place from day to day.'"

Rua's experience with Hamilton extends far before the Broadway run, including an American Songbook Series concert performance of select songs from the show in 2012 in which Rua portrayed Thomas Jefferson. Four years and over 200 performances later, he still learns about the heart of Alexander every time he steps into his shoes.

"'Hurricane' was one of my favorite moments, and I had no idea it would be," Rua recalls. He says this stirring moment in the show revealed just how much this character speaks to him on every level. "It was really very special- Sort of embodied what I was actually living as Jon the actor."

No matter how many times he goes on for the lead role, he never takes it for granted.

"[The journey of Hamilton] never ends, and I am meant to do it. The Hamilton responsibilities will keep you on your toes always, and you can never take it lightly. As I embarked on each performance it got better and settled more, but each experience has to be treated as if it's the first. At the same time I learned how rewarding and thrilling it is to play Hamilton, and how it settles with time. In my case, I was basically learning and growing so much in front of every audience. I have a great grasp of my Hamilton and how it exists in his world."

Humanizing the $10 Founding Father: Understudy Jon Rua Talks Being Born to Play HAMILTONThough Rua agrees with fans that choosing a favorite song in the score is impossible, he says the closing few moments of his first performance as the title role stand out vividly in his memory.

"A very great moment I recall was getting the final soliloquy finished and staring at Eliza, and it being so rich. So amazing. It was truly a transcending moment as an actor and such a tragic experience as Hamilton. And probably my favorite moment is seeing Eliza at the very end when the company sings 'time' a capella."

Most of all, playing the role of Hamilton gives Rua a freedom of self-expression that he can only get from those few performances, "Walking a thin line between life and death, Hamilton's life's journey allows me to experience my love for life in a palpable way and gives the insatiable drive within me a place to play."


Jon Rua's talents have crossed all mediums from Broadway & TV/Film to Concert Work & Music Videos. Credits include Broadway: Hamilton (Hamilton u/s,Charles Lee/Ensemble), Hands on a Hardbody (Jesus Pena), In The Heights (Sonny & Grafitti Pete) Off-Broadway: Hamilton (Charles Lee/Ensemble) Kung Fu (Matthew, Fung Fung, Barry), Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Mace u/s), Damn Yankees (Encores!). Regional: Old Globe's Somewhere (Alejandro-Craig Noel Leading Actor Nomination), Bring It On The Musical (Twig-World Premier), La Jolla's Hardbody (Jesus), Muny's West Side Story (Chino). Film: Fall to Rise (Magic) TV: Law & Order. In addition, Jon has danced for Mariah Carey, PHISH, Don Omar, Jackson Harris, Soulja Boy, as well as commerical ventures for Target, BillBoard, Puma, Reebok, IBM, Panasonic. As a Choreographer, his credits include Phish, Jackson Harris, ABC's Celebrity Wife Swap, Nick Blaemire & The Hustle, The Brooklynettes, Broadway Bares, Emmy Award-Winning Webisode 'Chaos Theory', Capezio A.C.E. Awards, The Adversary. and Off-Off Broadway's 'Union Square'. He has assisted Tony Award-Winner Andy Blankenbuehler, Tony Award Nominee Sergio Trujillo, Insanity's Shaun T., Lorin Lotarro and more. He is a Guest Choreographer for Broadway's Hamilton, On Your Feet, Bring It On-The Musical, Hands on a Hardbody, In The Heights, & NYCC's The Wiz. Jon is the Choreographer of the 2016 Muny's production of Aida. With years of experience as a performer, Jon is a Hybrid Artist whose movement is transforming the vessel of storytelling and igniting a fire in dance. He continues to spread his movement through his passion project, TheGrit.

Photo credits: JonRua.net

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