Whether you have watched it on Disney+, been fortunate enough to experience a live performance, or even just simply heard all about it, odds are that you know Hamilton is a cultural phenomenon. Fandomize recently had a chance to chat with Stephanie Jae Park. She plays Eliza Hamilton – wife of the main character, Alexander Hamilton – in the Philip Tour cast. Check out the interview below!
Shaun Hood: What does Hamilton stand for to you in terms of both American History, and today’s pop culture?
Stephanie Jae Park: To me, personally, what it stands for within my industry is it’s the very first time that I thought I could play a role that wasn’t written for an Asian woman. It’s the first time that people of color were popularly playing both leads and supporting roles. But it was pretty monumental to me, personally, seeing a full cast of people of color, and them being in the spotlight, and not being the side characters all the time. It’s not where they play the black friend or the Asian friend or something like that, so that’s personally what it means to me.
In terms of history, I think it was a huge part of making American history relatable and palatable and fun. I think we’re so used to it in just American history books and in a class and where it’s not fun. To see these people and their actual complex stories through hip hop really makes history something that you actually care about, which I think is fun.
In terms of pop culture, I think it was the first time in a while or in a more notable way that hip hop was brought back to its roots, and it’s original intention of storytelling. So instead glorifying money and fame and sex and all these things, hip hop was back to its original thing, which is the art of storytelling. I think introducing this kind of hip hop to people who don’t normally listen to hip hop was monumental. That’s such a huge part of why Hamilton is so successful because for the first time hip hop is accessible to a lot of people who don’t normally listen to hip hop or don’t really know what the roots of it are.
I also think that Hamilton really made Broadway relevant again for the first time since Rent. It’s one of the most popular musicals and people don’t know a lot of shows on Broadway, but people know Hamilton, so that’s awesome for my industry.
SH: Is there any part of Eliza as a character that you identify or connect with?
SJP: Absolutely. I love Eliza. I think she’s so admirable. The thing that I most connect with Eliza on is our value system. Eliza is emotionally intelligent. She’s as emotionally intelligent, as Hamilton is academically intelligent. She prioritizes that. She actually values that strength in her. It’s that feminine quality of listening, of emotional strength, of patience and all these things that she embodies. What I just love about it, is that I think American culture generally can kind of prioritize that masculine productivity, like “do, do, talk, talk, make, make” versus sometimes using emotions as weakness, whereas Eliza and I are able to find the feminine sides of that just as important. It’s the yang to the yin. It’s strength and its intelligence to be able to access those emotions and to support someone and to listen to someone. So I think that’s the part that I most connect with her is her emotional intelligence and the way that she prioritizes that part of her life, and therefore is able to support Hamilton and uplift her family.
SH: I’ve always thought of Eliza as one of the most multidimensional characters of the entire musical. She really loves and cares about her family, but she still finds her own ways to contribute to the founding of the United States, just as much as her husband and his friends. What is your take on her as a character in that regard?
SJP: So I think that – as I was saying – Hamilton was one side of the spectrum and Eliza was the other, and together they operated in this very high operational couple. Then once Hamilton passed, I think Eliza stepped in for both. I think she embodied both. She became the full thing where she was tying up all the ends for Hamilton throughout the rest of her life. She helps with the Washington monument. She does all these things that Hamilton would’ve done, plus the extra element, which again, ties back to her emotional intelligence, how much she cares about that, the first private orphanage in New York City.
I mean, the way the finale is written is just so beautiful because it’s she lists all these accomplishments that are – to me – doing Hamilton would’ve done, what Alexander would’ve done, but then, what she’s most proud of is this orphanage. What she’s most proud of is what she can support. She knows her strength, which is to support and to nurture, and to take care of people in need. I just find it so beautiful that she fulfills both her and Alexander’s roles to do things for the history of America, and also, still doing things for the people in her life, who she cares about and caring for people. It’s just so beautiful.
SH: What’s the chemistry like within the Hamilton Philip cast, both on stage and off?
SJP: I mean, I feel really lucky. I was also with Angelica Company and I really like them as well. With the Phillip tour, we are crazy supportive of each other. We don’t take things too seriously, which I really enjoy. We want to have a great show and we do prioritize that, but we can let things go on. We can let work be work, which is nice.
And on stage, I just feel so supported. Something that I think is interesting is Pierre Jean Gonzalez (Alexander Hamilton), and I, we were both standbys before we played these roles. So we know what it’s like to be at a different part of the cast. We know how important it is to support the offstage people, the under studies. There’s such a sense of teamwork that we have on stage that I really enjoy. So I feel really lucky to be with the Philip company. It’s a really, really good cast and people care and are supportive and there’s really not much shadiness going on, which is nice.
SH: Do you have a favorite song in Hamilton that Eliza sings? If so, why do you like it?
SJP: So my favorite song to sing is “That Would be Enough.”
SH: Oh, yeah. That’s one of my favorites, too.
SJP: Oh, I love that. Yeah, I find it to be often underrated. I think it’s so beautiful and it comes in a time after there’s been so much yelling on stage, fast rapping, explosions and blah, blah, blah. And then finally we just get a moment to breathe here.
I think – to be honest – I kind of judged Eliza before the pandemic. I didn’t quite understand the song to the extent that I do now, which is that Eliza was completely right, throughout the whole show. You see that if Hamilton had stayed home and he could still have done everything he did and lived longer, if he balanced his life a little bit better, which is all that Eliza is asking for. She’s saying, “Hey, you promised me something. And if you follow through with the promise, we can get all of this done, we just don’t need to be in such a rush.”
Hamilton was always running out of time, where his wife was saying, “Hey, slow down. We have time.” If he had done that, he wouldn’t have been rushing towards his death. And perhaps we would’ve had more history from Hamilton himself, so I just love it because it’s such a nice contrast to the rest of the show. Again, it’s that feminine wisdom, and she’s right. She’s always right.
SH: Hamilton is pretty much all music, so what is it like to make acting and singing go hand-in-hand like that?
SJP: I mean, I don’t even know how to sing without acting. I think that’s kind of the biggest thing I’ve learned from this. The whole show is just so well written that, it’s crazy how detailed the music director is, and how often we have music touch ups and acting touch ups. They care very deeply about this score and about this text. Every single breath is told, every scoop in a song is told. It is crazy how detailed they are, because it tells a story for you. I mean, all you have to do is connect as an actor, all I have to do is connect to the circumstance and then the music and the story does the rest of the work for me. So I feel like it just comes naturally.
I’m not thinking like, “Oh, I have to sing this.” or, “Oh, I have to act this.” There’s really no way to sing the show – to me – without acting. It feels unnatural. If I have to just like sing a song out of context, it’s hard to not do it with the stakes as they are, because they’ve been written with the stakes as they are. I’ve learned outside of the show, because of this show, I really sing so much better when I am acting everything. It’s crazy.
SH: Here’s a question that I was really looking forward to asking. There’s that final moment in the entire musical that always hits the audience right in the feels, when Eliza walks to the edge of the stage, sees the audience, and gasps. What is your interpretation of what’s happening in that scene?
SJP: Ok. So I feel like I will disappoint you, knowing that it’s your most exciting question. I can say this: I believe that the origin of that is, as Eliza would give tours of their property throughout the rest of her life, anytime she had a memory of Hamilton, she would gasp. So I believe that that’s the origin of the gasp. That being said, within the context of the show, they never tell you what that’s supposed to be. That’s a pretty free moment. Because of it, truly depending on the show, it changes. So, sometimes I’m seeing a white light and Hamilton’s there and I get to finally be with him in death, or it could be so many different things. Truly because I do the show eight times a week, it is almost never the same. I never have the answer until I’m actually doing it, if that makes sense.
SH: Well, that IS a good answer! Is there anything else that your working on or that you have coming up that you’d like our readers to know about?
SJP: I would really, really like everyone to know about this; Voltaire Wade-Green, is one of the original Broadway cast members of Hamilton. There’s some dance moves in the show named after him, and he and I are releasing an album of music and our music group name is Saffron Lips.
We are just starting our promotional campaign and we have the whole album of 10 songs that are coming out February 14th on Valentine’s Day. And you can pre-order the album and get three of the songs two weeks earlier than everyone else. It’s just so exciting. This has been what we’ve been doing while we were shut down for a while. This has been our creative baby and we’re very, very, very proud of it. I’m very excited to finally release it in the world. It’s been two years in the making and it’s finally coming out.
Stephanie Jae Park can be found on Instagram @stephanieslaypark, and Saffron Lips can be found on Instagram @saffronlips. Saffron Lips’ album, Fire to My Air, will become available for pre-order on January 28th, and will be released this coming Valentine’s Day.
The Hamilton Philip Company’s next stop is Dayton, Ohio, where they will perform at the Schuster Performing Arts Center from January 26th, until February 6th. Not near Dayton, Ohio? Visit the Hamilton website to find out when and where you can experience the show near you! Get your tickets to see Hamilton today!