In 2013, Hamilton (originally The Hamilton Mixtape) got its start as a musical workshop in the Powerhouse Season, an annual program at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater at Vassar College. And when actor Isaiah Johnson first heard Lin-Manuel Miranda’s now-famous creation, he knew Broadway was in for something special. This year, Johnson reprises his role as George Washington for the show’s third national tour, and it’s a don’t-miss production. February 12–September 8, Orpheum Theatre (SF). shnsf.com
MM: How does it feel to have watched this production become a phenomenon?
IJ: Honestly, it just feels affirming. At Vassar, there was a buzz surrounding Hamilton — everyone was talking about it. When I was able to hear the music, I was just floored. And I knew that it was something none of us had heard before on the Broadway stage.
MM: What did you learn about George Washington, and what did you bring to your portrayal?
IJ: In terms of the complexity and the integrity of the ideals that the country was founded upon — they weren’t crystal clear. They were a work in progress. What’s the most interesting to me is how Washington chose to navigate his own personal ambition, and marry that with the sacrifices that needed to be made.
MM: What do you think makes the show so special?
IJ: It’s something that’s never been done, American history so expertly expressed using hip-hop, and a hip-hop story. So much of the history that we learned in school was written by the people who were at the table, but there were others in the room who weren’t included in that story. So Hamilton gives us a window into their thought processes and feelings. It makes it fun, too — which it wasn’t before, at least for me. The fun that we imbue the history with is a gateway into it. And, inadvertently, we’ve made American history cool again.