EXCLUSIVE: “Hamilton” Co-Star Renee Elise Goldsberry Returns to Live Performing with QCSO May 15
The beautiful 50-year-old California native — best known for originating the role of Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway smash “Hamilton” – will make her post-Covid live performance debut in the 7:30 p.m. concert, for a long-awaited evening of Broadway, pop, and soul favorites, backed by the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s kind of mind-blowing,” Goldsberry said in a Friday phone interview, noting her entire 2020 pops tour schedule was scrapped due to Covid. “I’m really excited because this — I just can’t believe this exists, this opportunity. This is my first one back.”
First announced in early February 2020, the program was originally scheduled for the Adler Theatre, but was moved outside at the longtime home of the QCSO’s Riverfront Pops concerts.
Under the direction of QCSO music director and conductor Mark Russell Smith, the May 15 event will feature Goldsberry’s band, three female backup singers and selections from Broadway hits including “Hamilton,” “Rent,” and “The Lion King,” plus songs by Aretha Franklin,
Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, and more.
“I was actually in Iowa before. So I’ve definitely gotten to do them and there’s nothing in the world better in the summer than being outdoors with a pops concert with the symphony,” she said (Goldsberry sang with the Des Moines Symphony in 2019). “It’s just been a really long time. It’s been too long.”
Also in her first live concert since last summer’s popular release of the “Hamilton” film on Disney+, Goldsberry said she recreates her Schuyler sisters’ numbers from the much acclaimed show. Among “Hamilton”’s 11 Tony Awards, she won Best Featured Actress.
“I’m a big footprint,” she said of the QCSO show, which will feature classic songs in the first half and Broadway selections in the second. “I come with a band, so in front of your amazing orchestra you’ll see my band. There’s a guitar player, piano player, a drummer and a bass player, and then I have three of the most amazing women singers in the entire world on stage with me. So we just have a party and we can sing anything. So yeah, there’s plenty of Schuyler sisters. I have plenty of support.”
The film version of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s Pulitzer-winning re-imagining of the Founding Fathers (recorded in 2016) caught the groundbreaking musical from many angles.
“You get to go with the camera. It’s a pretty spectacular feat,” Goldsberry said. “Our director, Tommy Kail, he’s unique in that he directs theater and he directs film and television really beautifully. And so he was able to take the best way from all of those mediums to tell us this amazing story.”
She won the Tony Award, Grammy Award, Drama Desk Award and Lucille Lortel Award for her performance off and on Broadway in the musical phenomenon “Hamilton.” Angelica Schuyler (1756-1814) was the eldest daughter of Continental Army General Philip Schuyler, and a sister of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton and sister-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first Treasury Secretary.
Why the show touched a nerve
Based on Ron Chernow’s “Hamilton” biography (which inspired Miranda to write his hip-hop version, featuring actors of color), the musical
is “just really a story that we should have all known,” Goldsberry said Friday. “For some reason, we didn’t know this life, the man is amazing. The source material, the book from Ron Chernow is pretty brilliant.
“And then you have Lin-Manuel Miranda and his genius. He’s a theater geek and he’s a hip-hop geek, and he loves history and he’s just a genius storyteller,” she said. “Through his crazy imagination and his amazing musical talent, he found this really special way to tell this greatest story of all time that we didn’t know.
“There’s a lot of things we can look back and say, wow, you got this great director, this genius choreographer and lighting designer, and music director, and then this great cast got together, but I think sometimes lightning strikes,” Goldsberry said. “All the elements aligned to give us a real gift in the world. I just really can only thank God for the gift that ‘Hamilton’ has been in my life and so many people’s lives.”
Before that thunder struck, the actress already had an impressive resume of theater and television work.
Prior to Hamilton, Goldsberry’s appearances on stage include her Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated performance opposite Frances McDormand in the play Good People, as well as the original stage version of The Color Purple. She made her Broadway debut in The Lion King and was the last “Mimi” in Rent. Her off-Broadway appearances have included several Shakespeare productions for the Public Theater’s New York Shakespeare Festival, where Hamilton originated.
Her television appearances include recurring roles on The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU and The Following. She was nominated twice for a Daytime Emmy Award for her performance on One Life to Live. On film, she appeared most recently in Sisters with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and in Every Secret Thing with Diane Lane and Elizabeth Banks.
At the 2016 Tonys, “Hamilton” was nominated for 16 awards, and won 11 – as Goldsberry was among four African-Americans who swept the major musical performance Tonys. Leslie Odom, Jr. and Daveed Diggs won for “Hamilton” and Cynthia Erivo won for “The Color Purple,” which was very meaningful for Goldsberry.
“It was just surreal, amazing and not surprising,” she said. “It’s not an anomaly and it’s not here’s the Tonys doing the right thing. These are all just amazingly talented people that will continue I think to just light the world on fire with the things that they choose to do. And so the fact that I was standing there with them in that minute, it was just a really special opportunity and I hope only the beginning.”
Goldsberry also was thrilled to be part of the cast that performed at The White House in January 2017, as then-President Barack Obama was preparing to leave office after two terms. Christopher Jackson, who played George Washington in “Hamilton” memorably sang “One Last Time” there, which reflects Washington’s own farewell address (in September 1796), as he stepped down as the first American president.
“It was crazy and wonderful. Those were the days,” Goldsberry recalled. “We got on a bus after our shows, we took off our costumes and we drove from New York City to Washington D.C., and probably slept for about 5 minutes ‘cause we were so excited, and we got up and we went to The White House.
“We got to perform in front of that huge, amazing portrait of George Washington for Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, and all these wonderful children that they had brought to the White House,” she said. “It was a miracle. It was another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And to quote actually something that Barack Obama said to us – being part of a great work is one thing, but being a part of a great work that’s actually recognized as a great work while you’re doing it is very rare.
“You should really savor how it feels to be celebrated in this way, and we did,” Goldsberry said. For Jackson to sing in front of the president, “who was on his victory lap, with George Washington behind him and sing that song — I mean, only Chris Jackson could open his spirit
up and let his voice really resonate and just ring with the significance of that moment in a way that just brought us all to tears,” she said.
“Hamilton” also was important in raising awareness of unsung female heroes during the American Revolution, like Eliza and Angelica, she said.
“I’m really grateful. So much is in the hand of the storyteller,” Goldsberry said. “Ron Chernow, he said to me there are so many different kinds of historians and some people are very interested in dates and places and artifacts, and he said, he’s really excited by relationships. He really loves to delve into relationships when he starts to research different characters, different people from different times.
“And I think that work really spurred Lin into the kind of time that he took with the women characters in ‘Hamilton’ and the liberty that he took to kind of dream for them,” she said. “Because he did such a great job of representing them in the story. I think, we are more comfortable when we talk about forefathers — also talking about foremothers of this country.”
Recovering from a devastating year
While Covid shut down most in-person work for actors and performers, Goldsberry was able to use the past year to write and record new original music, and film a new TV series, “Girls5Eva,” that starts streaming on the NBC service Peacock, on Thursday, May 6. (See the trailer HERE.)
“The past year has been devastating for everybody — not just artists, all of us,” she said. “It’s been really hard. I’ve been blessed because I still had this thing that was filmed, in the can, that we could put out and it’s still gave me a platform in a way to be on the scene even though I was
in my house. It still gave me some presence in the world and really an opportunity to be able to talk about some things that were happening.
“That meant a lot to me, like Black Lives Matter and be able to talk about the kinds of things we can be doing to love each other and keep each other safe and just to just to think about the hope that I feel — even though we’re going through a really hard time in ways that we really intended to try to be inspiring to other people,” Goldsberry said. “I’ve been really grateful for that.”
“I got to shoot a television show over Covid-19, a company that was able to create a bubble,” she said of the new show, a comedy with music co-produced by Tina Fey and her husband, Jeff Richmond, and co-starring Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps and Paula Pell (about a girl group that reunites after 20 years).
“It’s so much fun and I haven’t seen the whole thing yet. It’s eight episodes in the first season,” Goldsberry said. “What makes me most excited is that the love that we have for the show and for our characters and most importantly, for each other, which just pops off of the screen. I mean it is so often laugh-out-loud funny and it feels so good.”
Goldsberry’s character desperately wants to be a diva. “She’s a diva in her mind,” she said. “She starts the show pretty humbled and this is a second-chance show. This is a girl group that had a big hit and they blew it. And one of the major reasons why they blew it is because my
character kind of diva’d out a little bit and now they’re back together and realize how desperately they need each other to try to make a second go of it.”
“It’s a beautiful thing to watch my character learn how to love other people and learn what it really means to make it,” Goldsberry said, noting Sara Bareilles wrote a new song for the series.
“Jeff Richmond, who’s also just a fantastic songwriter and producer himself, wrote a lot of the music for it,” she said. “There’s a lot of hilariously fun and funny pop music in the show, and some really special, poignant moments as well.”
Fey is an executive producer of the show, Goldsberry said. “The quality control is pretty strong in that camp and they have an amazing track record for some amazingly successful series. They know what they’re doing. They work together so beautifully. They’re a wonderfully collaborative, encouraging team of people to work for.”
“So for me as an artist, I was able to work. I’ve been able to work through this pandemic,” she said. “I just finished an album — that I’m trying to figure out when I’m going to release — over the pandemic. I think all of us have been working. It’s just we haven’t been getting paid for it, you know?
“It’s finding silver linings in what’s been a very challenging time and all of the artist community I know, we found a way to still do what we do and try to say, to be a positive voice in the atmosphere through Covid. I’ve just been really fortunate enough to actually be able to log these things in a way that’s kept my family going and I’m really grateful for that.”
“I’m excited that we’re back on a stage with this amazing orchestra,” she added. “I have a band that shows up with me and three singers, and I’m excited that I’m a part of something that gets us all working doing what we love, right?”
New album, bright future
Though Goldsberry has written and recorded original music before, the forthcoming album will be her first major original release.
“It’s a lot like the songs that you’ll hear in the concert and I think it’s probably a mixture between pop and R&B, and just kind of soulful music,” she said. “Not in terms of the genre of soulful, but just really honest and inspiring for sure.” Most of the new songs she penned over the last eight months.
“Which is helpful because it makes it really relevant,” Goldsberry said. “Sometimes things feel like we’ve been through so much, and songs are universal and they always matter. But it’s the fun in the middle of this quarantine to dream about life outside of it. It’s been really exciting to imagine what I would want to play at a house party with friends and family that I haven’t seen in a year and half — I would want to hear how the soundtrack for that would be. That’s been fun to dream up.
“That’s what I look forward to about this moment,” she said of the QCSO concert and another pops she’s planning in June in Detroit (where her father lives). “We were already, the message of my concert was really about what we have in common. I typically say at the beginning of my
concert, we do the same concert in the north and the south, and the east and the west, the red-state, blue-state, we don’t change a word. We do the same thing and everybody’s joyful at the end.
“The point is, we have so much in common,” Goldsberry said. “This concert was already born in a time when there was already such a great divide, a seemingly great divide in our country between how people felt, and we always felt that music is the thing that unifies us. It doesn’t have to divide us.
“If you come spend time with your orchestra and an artist, you should leave feeling good about that — who we are and how much we have in common, and what we all believe,” she said. “I mean, we love the same songs, you know? And so that’s always been the message. And it will be interesting how those songs and how that message feels now, when so much has changed.”
“Even though we haven’t been able to do the shows, no one has stopped dreaming,” Goldsberry added. “No one has stopped writing. No one has stopped, collaborating remotely, I mean, once we get the green light, it’s going to be an explosion. It’ll be a spring of creative things on Broadway and in theaters all across the world.”
Since winning the Tony Award, she has appeared in Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down for Netflix and played the title role in HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks opposite Oprah Winfrey.
The new series centers on Jennifer Walters (Maslany), an attorney who has similar powers to her cousin, Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk. Details regarding Goldsberry’s character are being kept under wraps, and she couldn’t really talk about it Friday.
“It would be an absolute thrill of mine to be named for that, but I actually officially can’t talk about it,” she said. “But that sounds like something that would be an absolute thrill.”
Avengers star and Tony nominee Mark Ruffalo will reportedly reprise his role as The Hulk, and Tim Roth is reprising his Hulk character of The Abomination for the new show.
Goldsberry recorded an interview with the QCSO’s Marc Zyla, for his new “Because” podcast, and that episode will be released at 6 a.m. Monday, May 3.
Tickets for the May 15 concert at LeClaire Park are sold by plot, and all the two-person plots and bandshell seats are sold out. Only six and 10-person plots are available (the maximum number allowed per plot, so smaller groups can always purchase those plots) – ranging in cost from $290 and $410 for smaller plots to $262-$782 for larger plots.
Total capacity for the concert is 628 individual seats and plots, and if all plots are filled, that is a capacity of 2,424 people. The QCSO on Friday had 548 individual seats and plots sold so far,
Tickets are available HERE. No food and beverage vendors will be on site, and facial masks or coverings will be required for entry, while waiting for entry, exit, and to move about the common areas. Complete health and safety requirements for the event can be found HERE.