You don’t need to talk to “Hamilton” frontman Pierre Jean Gonzalez to know the man works non-stop.
A graduate of Rutgers University, Gonzalez spent about a year and a half waiting for parts of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and King George III with the Philip Touring Co. — one of three bands touring North America. North with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical “Hamilton”.
“They asked me to take over as Alexander Hamilton and I was supposed to debut on March 27, 2020,” Gonzalez told the Des Moines Register. “So I took off two weeks early… to decompress before taking it back.”
Of course, what delayed Gonzalez from hitting the stage is a question that will be covered in the history books. But in the 18 months Gonzalez didn’t play Hamilton, the actor didn’t stop or wait, instead he began working at a pace that rivaled the zeal of the founding father he portrays on stage.
So, before seeing “Hamilton” on stage, learn a little more about the man playing the mythical main role.
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“My Personal Shakespeare”
Before we get to Gonzalez’s most recent achievement, it’s important to step back to 2015, when “Hamilton” first exploded onto Broadway.
“(What first turned me on) was the music,” Gonzalez recalled of his first encounters with the show. “I grew up in the Bronx, I grew up around hip-hop. I remember listening to (‘Hamilton’) and thinking, ‘This is my music’… (and) it also reminded me of Shakespeare. It was like my own Shakespeare; it was like it was prepared and made for me. I don’t know how to describe it. It was magical.
The world continued to agree with him. The musical retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s story that mixes hip-hop with traditional musical structure won 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2016.
Although its run on Broadway was cut short by the pandemic, Disney+ released a filmed recording of the original Broadway cast in 2020 and the musical returned to live Broadway performances last September.
Although he loves the whole show, Gonzalez’s favorite “Hamilton” segment might surprise those who know him.
While the musical is filled with demanding raps, like “My Shot” near the top of the series, and clever rebuttals, like “Farmer Refuted,” that give the Hamilton actor chances to show the spirit of the character, Gonzalez’s favorite part is dramatically charged part of the show’s second act.
“There’s this little section, from ‘We Know’ to ‘Hurrican,'” Gonzalez said, describing a part of the show where Hamilton’s rivals rally against him to highlight past transgressions. “It’s that ride, it’s so human. It’s the simplest form of seeing someone being challenged – and a lot of the time as humans we create our own drama and make it worse for ourselves because of our pride. I think it’s just such an eye-opening moment for the character.
According to Gonzalez, he was able to go from believing he could never lead a show the size of “Hamilton” to playing a role that felt tailor-made for him every night.
“I can dance, I can sing, I can rap, I can tell stories, I can move,” he said. “The rise and fall of this character, what a ride to have. Then at the end of the night, I look up and see thousands of happy people. We make people happy in a time when there aren’t many happiness everywhere.
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“Using the ‘Hamilton’ platform to do good”
In a unique situation due to his position as a “Hamilton” cast member, Gonzalez decided he wasn’t interested in sitting idle during the worst of the pandemic. He took the money he’d saved up as a stand-in, tagged “Hamilton” cast and crew members, and decided to make movies.
At the start of the pandemic, Gonzalez and her fiancé, Cedric Leiba Jr., launched DominiRican Productions, a film production company now in its second year.
One of their projects is “American Made,” a short starring Gonzalez and Jared Dixon, who plays Burr in that company’s production of “Hamilton.” Tiffany Nichole Greene, the resident director of this company, directs the film which examines the perpetuation of slavery by America’s prison industrial complex by depicting the story of two bookbinders in a correctional facility.
DominiRican released two more shorts, “Release” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get Who?” Gonzalez and his production company want to showcase people of color on both sides of the camera.
“It all started with me creating jobs for my friends, who are amazing artists, who don’t get the opportunity because we’re all fighting for those two or three roles,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’s goals in the film world aren’t that far removed from those of “Hamilton” creator Miranda. With “Hamilton,” Miranda aimed to show the stories of “America then, told by America now,” and her previous Broadway hit, “In the Heights,” was born because Miranda watched Broadway and never hasn’t seen many desirable roles for Puerto Rican men.
According to Gonzalez, the worlds of stage and film are moving in a direction he is happy to see. Not only are productions like “Hamilton” created for the stage, but he pointed to a particular example on television that he was thrilled to see.
“I watched ‘Bridgerton’ the other day and I was crying,” he said. “It’s my favorite period – and (as a child) I thought I would never play anyone in this world. And looking at what (Regé-Jean Page) has done, it makes me emotional now to see blacks and browns playing those roles and being dukes and duchesses, that, for me, was a game-changer.
As a gay, Latinx man from the Bronx, Gonzalez’s hope is that by playing “Hamilton” at night and doing DominiRican during the day, he can inspire others in the same way.
“Using this ‘Hamilton’ platform to do good, to inspire, to let the kids see each other – you don’t know how many messages I get not just from Latinx but from trans, non-binary people who see me with my flag on them represent,” he said. “That’s how important it is to see yourself represented or to see yourself being praised or to see yourself being put in this main character.
“Hamilton” returns to the Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., with performances May 17-June 5. Tickets for the show cost between $59 and $229 and can be purchased at desmoinesperformingarts.org.