BWW Interview: Stephanie Jae Park of HAMILTON: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL at Aronoff Center
History has its eyes on CCM alumna Stephanie Jae Park as she travels the country with the first national tour of "Hamilton: The American Musical," running now through March 10 at the Aronoff Center. Hear about what her job entails, being "late to the Hamilton train," what her education and previous Broadway credits taught her and more in the Q&A below!
BWW: First things first, you are a standby for all three Schuyler Sisters! For those who may not be familiar with the theatre lingo, can you explain what your *extremely important and valuable* role is in the company of "Hamilton"?
SJP: Well first- thank you for that :) Being a standby for the Schuyler Sisters means that anytime one of the sisters is out, I go on for them. Cherry Torres (swing) and Charnette Batey (ensemble) also cover all three sisters, so there's always another full set of sisters ready to go! It's so much fun (and also hilariously confusing) when we switch around which sister we are rehearsing.
BWW: When you first took the job, was the thought of having to perform three decently different characters in such a beloved musical daunting? Did you feel any added pressure with the amount of success it had? And on the other side of the question, what excited you most about this opportunity?
SJP: I'm super late to the "Hamilton" train. (I tend to avoid anything "mainstream." Haha, jokes on me.) I didn't actually see Hamilton until the end of 2018, so even though I obviously knew of "Hamilton" and knew some of the catchy tunes, I didn't have any idea of who each character is SUPPOSED to be. I'm very grateful for that. I got to explore each sister from the beginning when I was working on the material for the audition (with the help of my best friend and coach Steffanie Leigh). When I first got the job, I was SO EXCITED for the creative feast that is all three sisters, plus the sexy Maria Reynolds.
BWW: Do you have a favorite moment in the show? Maybe, as each sister, or just overarching, no matter what character?
SJP: So far, I've learned Angelica and Peggy/Maria, so for those two sisters my answer is pretty obvious..."Satisfied," and "Say No to This." I think "Say No to This" is my favorite moment in the whole show - it's sexy, it's different, it's guttural, and we get a break from the neurotic, nonstop quality of Hamilton. I have a feeling I'm going to love singing Burn when I get to Eliza. I'm also obsessed with the dancers in "Battle of Yorktown." It's LIT.
BWW: You studied Musical Theatre right here in Cincinnati at the College Conservatory of Music (CCM)! How did the training at CCM help prepare you for this job specifically?
SJP: My biggest takeaway from CCM is the theme from our Freshman Showcase - "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish." It doesn't matter how much talent you have, you have to work hard, put the time in. I also had the most diverse class in CCM history, which was a huge blessing. We lifted each other up and celebrated our differences. Richard Hess taught me the importance of the full company as an ensemble, and provided a safe environment to explore and create. K Jenny Jones fed me fearlessness and gave me access to my heart. Voice teachers Kimberly De Acha and Pat Linhart provided unconditional love and support and are forever near and dear to my heart. It's the people who make up the school.
BWW: In addition to performing, you also play the piano, vocal coach, music direct and arrange! That makes you a "septuple-threat"! :) How did you get into these avenues of the art form?
SJP: Wow, I've gotta say I'm impressed and humbled by your research! I'm the youngest of a very musical family. My mom was an opera singer on Guam, I have two older sisters who sing and dance, and my whole family sang in church all the time. I grew up taking classical voice and piano lessons, and ballet classes. It wasn't until high school that I first learned that musical theatre was a career option at all. I've moved around a lot in my life, and the one constant for me has been music. I'm very comfortable in a one-on-one lesson setting, and I love creative collaboration. I'm also a part of an a cappella group in NYC called Range - you should check us out on YouTube!
BWW: Your past Broadway and National Tour credits ("War Paint," "The King and I" and "Cinderella") were more classical in nature of the score and story. How was it preparing for this contemporary, hip-hop-esque show? Were there things that you learned from performing in the others that you carry over to "Hamilton"?
SJP: Once again, I'm impressed that you picked up on that. As mentioned above, I've been a classical singer and dancer my whole life. It wasn't until 2018 that I finally gained the confidence to really explore contemporary singing. (What's hilarious is it all started with an Instagram post that I had been terrified to post.) I honestly could not have sung this show a year ago. From my previous shows, my biggest lesson has been about the culture of musicals. I learned through really amazing examples (i.e. Patti LuPone, Kelli O'Hara) what it means to lead a show as an actor and as a person. I learned how hard 8 shows a week is. (It is NO JOKE y'all.) I learned respect for every member of the company, cast, crew, management, wardrobe, etc. We are nothing without each other. I learned what kind of company member I want to be.
BWW: While the show takes place in the late 1700s-early 1800s, it is obviously relevant to today's audience and society. Do you notice audiences reacting differently to certain lines based on what is happening in our country at that moment? Have there been clear differences in audience reactions based on what part of the country you are in?
SJP: Well, I'm brand new to this company, so I've only experienced three audiences - Pittsburgh, Columbus and now Cincinnati. However, upon asking original company member Jennifer Geller, I've heard that performing in Atlanta was amazing because it felt like a rock concert. They had a different appreciation for the show because they understood the roots of the show - all the hip hop references. Another original company member Dan Belnavis said he will never forget opening in LA - he could feel the music and energy throughout his body.
BWW: Since you have lived in Cincinnati before, is there anything that you missed that you have to do in your three weeks here?
SJP: It's insane how different Cincinnati is since I went to school here, especially Clifton! My college home was taken down and turned into a Target! I'm really excited to visit CCM and see all the faculty there. A couple cast members and I are teaching some masterclasses soon at CCM which I'm sure will give me all the feels. My family lives here, and it's been an absolute dream getting to stay at home with my family and my dogs. Things I have to do- Deep India, Thai Express, Rhinegeist, Taste of Belgium...I guess my passions are food-based.
BWW: Last but not least, what are you hoping audiences take away from seeing "Hamilton" here in Cincinnati?
SJP: I encourage audience members to watch the show without any preconceptions of the show, with an open mind and open heart. I believe art is a highly personal experience, and I hope that every audience member takes away whatever they need in that moment in their lives. I love hearing people's different experiences with which character they relate to, which songs they most love, what scenes or moments touched them and why.
"Hamilton: An American Musical" features a book, music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Cincinnati native Andy Blankenbuehler, and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. The musical won 11 2016 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album, and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
To purchase tickets to "Hamilton: An American Musical," running now through March 10 at the Aronoff Center, click here. There is also a digital lottery offered for every performance. For more details or to enter, click here.