Alaska audiences have had to “wait for it” for years, but it’s finally here.
The Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton” has made its way from Broadway to Anchorage recently, running shows at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts from mid-August through this Sunday, Sept. 10.
The musical tells the story of the founding of the United States from the perspective of the country’s first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, blending show tunes and ballads with hip-hop and R&B.
Pierre Jean Gonzalez stars as Hamilton in the Anchorage run and spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Wesley Early about his experience bringing the “$10 Founding Father without a father” to the Anchorage stage.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Wesley Early: So what’s it like to play Hamilton, and why did you want this role?
Pierre Jean Gonzalez: I mean, who doesn’t want to play Hamilton, right? Truthfully, the first time I saw the show, it kind of blew me away. And I’ll never forget telling one of my friends when we were sitting there, I was like, “Oh, God, I can’t play Hamilton. But who else can I play in the show?” Right? Like having that conversation. As an actor, we always think like, “Who’s my person? Like, maybe I could do Philip/Laurens. Oh, let’s look into this.” (In the musical, the characters of John Laurens and Phillip Hamilton are typically played by the same actor.) So I think back to that moment, and I’m just like, I’m playing Alexander Hamilton in “Hamilton.” Every single day, I’m up on stage, I still have like a moment where that little inner child is just blown away. I’m always tearing at, “Yorktown.” You know, I’m a crier. So I know the first people in like the first couple rows, they’ve been seeing me going really hard. But it’s been mind blowing. I feel very grateful. I feel very fortunate. I feel very lucky. And I’ve worked my butt off to get here. You know, I started off as a standby first on this company, which is an understudy covering Hamilton, Burr and the king. And then I got promoted to be Hamilton and I was supposed to debut March 2020. Let that settle in. Yep, March 2020, it was like March 24. I was supposed to debut in Toronto. And you know, two weeks turn into three months, turn into 18 months, right? So when we came back and opened it at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, it was such a magical and such an important moment for my life and for all the people that look like me. Because you know, also I’m a queer, out, Afro-Latinx man. And I really want to make sure that people see me up there playing a leading man and representing everything that I represent. So that’s really important to me.
WE: Yeah, I was gonna say, you know, Lin Manuel-Miranda, the writer and original star of the musical, has described “Hamilton” as a story about “America then as told by America now.” As such, most of the historical figures in the musical, all of them white, are portrayed by people of color. As a person of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, how do you describe your feelings stepping into this role?
PJG: I think it’s the magic of the show, right? It’s a statement. You know, I feel very powerful. And I feel very aligned in the mission of what the show represents. You know what I mean? I think that it’s hard for a lot of people to realize that the United States. And I can only talk about my New York experience, you know, New York is really diverse. And touring in this company, I’ve got to see a lot of places in Middle America and a lot of places in the United States. A lot of places aren’t as diverse as New York. So it’s just about, this show gives people the capacity to see people who don’t look like them, playing these amazing, powerful people. And I think that that’s part of the magic of the show. I think that’s a part of the attraction to the show. And I think, again, we’re healing a lot of the trauma of people of color not seeing themselves as leading men or women, or seeing themselves as people of power and only seeing themselves as, you know, if you look at my resume before I did “Hamilton,” it was like Dishwasher, Thug No. 2, Assassin, Bad Guy, Thug No. 3, you know what I mean? So I had to fight really hard in this industry to try. At the end of the day, we gotta get paid, right? So I take the roles, but I knew at a certain point that I had to use this platform as playing Hamilton to create more opportunity for people that look like me.
WE: Have you been to Alaska before? What’s been your impression? Do you think “you’ll be back?”
PJG: Ha! Absolutely. Listen, first of all, the views here are insane. I mean, I did a tour the other day. We did the helicopter going up to the dog sledding, and then like the glaciers, and I’m still riding high off of that. I think Alaska… I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know. Nobody told me. For me as a boy who grew up in the projects in the Bronx, I never could have imagined that I would be here. Not just playing Hamilton, but just being in Alaska. Like that’s unknown for a lot of people I grew up with. They just stick in that same area. So for me, this has really opened up my mind and my eyes to a lot.
WE: How have the Alaska audiences reacted so far to seeing the musical in person?
PJG: They’ve been amazing. The audiences here are lit. They’re loving the show. We’re feeling so much love from the people here. And I love the people who come again. I always catch a couple people who’ve come like a couple times, and we got to meet a couple of people who came to the backstage area and let us know that they drove eight hours, or flew or took two planes to get here, and this is the second time they saw it. So I can feel the love and I can feel the importance of what the show means to be here in Alaska.
WE: And I gotta ask, do you have a favorite musical number from the show? And could you describe how it fits in the overall story for people who may not be super familiar?
PJG: I love “We Know” into like “The Reynolds Pamphlet.” That’s like my… it’s just so meaty. And it’s just so like, “fuuu…” Oh, excuse my language. It’s so like, “Oh, man!” And then also, I know that there’s 20 minutes left for the show.
WE: Could you sing a little bit of that for us?
PJG: My favorite is “We Know” because it’s just so Bronx. “She courted me. Escorted me to bed and when she had me in a corner, that’s when Reynolds extorted me, for a sordid fee, I paid him quarterly.” Like it’s like that kind of hip-hop. That comes from the Bronx. It’s home to me. The rhythms in the show represent who I am 100%.