Renée Elise Goldsberry Takes a Rare Moment to Reflect on Her Hamilton Journey
The brand-new Tony nominee is practicing for her rocking chair days.
Less than a week after busing back to New York from the White House, where Renée Elise Goldsberry and her Hamilton costars had performed selections from their show for the president and first lady, the cast received another impossible-to-refuse invite. This time, from Prince. The music legend would be performing what no one realized would be one of his final concerts for an exclusive group at a downtown nightclub, and he wanted the cast of Hamilton there.
"We were exhausted but we weren't gonna not go," remembers Goldsberry. So she and her castmates slipped out after their show and headed downtown. For a couple of hours the cast was "just kicking it, thinking, 'Oh my god, we have two shows tomorrow," but finally Prince appeared, walking out onto an upper level of the space in which they'd been waiting.
"And he's just jamming my favorite songs ever, even more amazingly than I ever thought they could have sounded. Just for this small group of people," Goldsberry recalls. "I remember Jasmine [Cephas Jones] and I kept staring at each other, we couldn't stop staring because we were just trying to, like, transmit to each other This is happening. This is happening and we are here."
Goldsberry is echoing a sentiment she shared with TheaterMania last year, in the first half of this profile, published just after Hamilton opened on Broadway. A common thread that runs through many of the characters she has portrayed — from Rent's Mimi (a role she played as part of the show's final Broadway cast) to Hamilton's Angelica Schuyler — is the courage to "take their life and live it completely with the most passion and possibility." Each of these women is saying, in her own way, "right at this particular moment, no day but today, we are lucky to be alive tonight."
As Hamilton blasts its way further and further into our cultural zeitgeist, Goldsberry has been honored to get to introduce the world to the Schuyler sisters as "powerful" women "on fire with excitement about the opportunity they have." "Their perspective is looking ahead," she explains. "I think when we look at it from where we are now, our assumption is that they must have suffered because they were wearing the corsets or [because of] the constraints they have that we have been freed of...but they come out and say this, 'How lucky we are to be alive right now.'"
Goldsberry recently got to fall in love with those strong sisters all over again when she saw the show from the audience for the very first time, an experience she calls "mind-blowingly wonderful." Watching her understudy, Alysha Deslorieux, excel in the role of Angelica gave Renée herself new confidence. "Seeing her go on and do such a great job just being who she is in the role," Renée realized, "I don't have to manufacture something to pull it off...There's so much room for so many different kinds of women to play Angelica."
"In any great character," Goldsberry continues, "there's room for so many versions, because…we're so many different things."
Looking beyond the Hamilton horizon, to a time when she will no longer be embodying Angelica eight shows a week, Goldsberry is figuring out how to carry some elements of the role with her. "It's really hard to know," she reflects, "how do I kind of reclaim Renée and still kind of hold on to Angelica Schuyler as much as possible? What are the best ways as mother and as a wife and as a responsible person in the world to transition?"
One of the facets of Angelica that Goldsberry would most like to adopt in her own life is the ability to "really discern the spirits of other people quite quickly and quite accurately. To meet somebody, and to immediately say, This is who you are." But, Renée adds, that doesn't block Angelica from experiencing the person she's just met, no matter what awaits her on their end of things. "Even if she recognizes that there'll be pain in front of her, she's brave enough to still go through the ride."
Hamilton — and her new Tony nomination — will also give Goldsberry the opportunity to make decisions differently. Gone will be the days of just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. But at the same time, "there's all kinds of things that I've done in my life that I didn't think were gonna do anything that ended up being huge. So sometimes it's really hard to know." A very spiritual person, Goldsberry says she's always praying about what to do with her time, "and I'm just going to have the faith to believe that I'll make choices that I won't regret later." What she does know is that she's grateful to have this opportunity at this moment in her life and that no matter what comes next she'll be able to infuse it with everything she's learned as Angelica.
For now, however, she's simply focused on taking it all in. "The pace at which new and exciting opportunities present themselves is like no other time in my life...and sometimes it feels like we're on the next ride before we really had a chance to process everything about the last one. Sometimes we just stare at each other like, Can you believe this?"
Goldsberry knows eventually there will be plenty of time to sit back and sort through all her Hamilton experiences. "There's been like a lot of experiences that will, I think, keep me warm in my old age, when I'm sitting in the rocking chair on the porch with nothing to do."