History happened in Manhattan, and a packed room at the Hilton Midtown became The Room Where It Happened during the Hamilton panel at the first annual BroadwayCon Friday night in New York.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton), Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler), Phillipa Soo (Eliza Schuyler), Chris Jackson (George Washington), Jonathon Groff (King George), Daveed Diggs ((Thomas Jefferson/Marquis de Lafayette), Okieriete ”Oak” Onaodowan (James Madison/Hercules Mulligan) and Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr) were joined by Playbill’s Blake Ross to share their enthusiasm and love with fans from around the country.
Oh yeah, and there was a little impromptu freestyle rapping. Naturally.
The hour started with Ross asking the cast how they came to be involved in Miranda’s groundbreaking musical. Told in order of how they joined, the responses ranged from random happenstance (Groff recalled getting called when a show with Brian D’Arcy James, who originated the role of King George during the off-Broadway run, was fast-tracked to Broadway) to normal auditions (Goldsberry and Onaodowan went in for the roles), to secretive asides (during a performance of In The Heights a few years ago, Miranda reportedly pulled Jackson aside backstage and told him what he was writing), to very personal (Odom, Jr. got an email from Lin with the subject line “Octo-BURR-fest.”)
With a current running time of almost three hours, it’s hard to imagine what was left out of Hamilton’s life story. But Miranda shared two things that he wishes he could have included regarding Burr and Maria Reynolds.
“Burr actually prevented a duel between Hamilton and James Monroe — and Monroe is the one who Hamilton thought leaked the Reynolds affair,” Miranda revealed. “And Maria Reynolds got divorced from James Reynolds, and Burr was her lawyer. That’s real!”
“You heard it here first, he’s doing that next,” added Jackson with a laugh.
And while there were jokes and laughs, the cast took the time to address some of the more prominent reasons the show has become such an important piece of theater.
“The beauty of the work Lin has done in Hamilton is really celebrating the women and their impact on the men, and also on history and the love they have for each other,” said Goldsberry. Soo was quick to agree.
“I think the most amazing thing is discovering Eliza did so much in her life after Hamilton had passed,” she says, admitting that when she was called to join the show she didn’t even know who Eliza was. As for Miranda, he was, unsurprisingly, passionate about sharing how Hamilton can be influential in today’s culture outside of just teaching people about the Founding Fathers.
“We’ve been fighting the same stuff for 200 years,” he said. “That’s in the fabric of the compromises that led to the formation of our country, and you have to think of it that way. It was a bunch of different colonies trying to figure out how to live together, and there are cracks in that foundation. And we’re always figuring out how to mend those cracks.”
“I don’t think Lin set out to tell you what to think with this show, but it has the power to change your mind about these things. Because if it can change your mind, it can change your actions, and the power to change people’s minds is a responsibility that we had,” added Odom, Jr.
“We lose a lot of characters in our show to gun violence, and that’s not going away anytime soon unless someone acts up and does something. It weirdly gives me hope – we started fighting about these things, and we make strides forward, and we make strides sideways, but we’re still making them,” Miranda continued as the audience cheered. And even though the cast is telling their stories each night, they’re still learning about their characters.
“The more I find out, the more hilarious he gets to me,” said Diggs with a laugh.
Fittingly enough, Hamilton’s panel was set to be followed by a reunion with the original cast of Rent — Broadway’s first game changer of a musical that, cast member Anthony Rapp mentioned in his introduction, was what the late Jonathan Larson hoped to see one day in theatre.
“One of the kind of crazy things about this experience is being in the opening company of Hamilton and being in the closing company of Rent,” Goldsberry shared. “And to think about what they set up for us so far down the road. I think about that a lot with this, because this is so much bigger than us sitting on this stage. This is something that will live so long ahead of the future.”
“There’s something that’s in the wood. It’s a legacy, they show you how to do it,” added Odom, Jr. who, like Goldsberry, also also starred in the musical. “So you are quite literally walking in their footsteps. But without question, that’s the show that opened my heart.”
Ross ended the panel with a lightning round that culminated in a Hamilton sing along with the entire room (work!) As for the best and most insane things the cast has heard at the stage door so far? Miranda is routinely asked to write things for tattoo purposes, and Jackson always gets, “Benny, you were GREAT as George Washington!”
For Soo, the best thing she hears at stage door is a testament to why Hamilton has become the phenomenon that it is: “Thank you for representing Asian American women.”