At the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Broadway was shut down. Sadly, the absence of Broadway has made it all the more difficult for fans of the critically acclaimed musical, Hamilton, to get to experience the story first-hand. However, most recently, Fandomize had the opportunity to chat with Johanna Moise, a member of the current broadway cast of Hamilton! Check out the interview below!
Shaun Hood: Tell us about when you got the role in Hamilton. What was the process like? When and how did you find out that it was official?
Johanna Moise: I think it was back in 2018 – I was just looking on Playbill.com because I was very into theater growing up. I was also going to school to become a doctor. That’s what my parents really wanted me to be able to do. So I was just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, and I saw that Hamilton had an equity chorus call notification, and for an ECC, you have to be union to be seen pretty much, but I wasn’t at the time. I was still living in Florida.
I convinced my mom to let me fly to New York City to see if I would be able to get seen. I flew there and I signed my name on the non equity sign up list, at like 4:00 AM and was waiting in the room. Then when they started the audition, they said, “We’re actually not seeing non-union today. So you can leave your head shots and then maybe we’ll call you eventually.” So at that point I was like, “Ok, well, I’m never going to be able to be seen for the show. I guess I’m going to go back to Florida, and go back to going to college. That’s my plan.” But then about eight months later, in November, I got a random email inviting me to come dance in New York City for Hamilton. So I was super excited and told my parents and I hopped on a plane and flew back and did my first dance audition. And then I was there for like two days. And then I flew back to Florida. And then in like two more days, I got an email saying I had a call back. I was so excited but my mom said, “Yeah, but you can’t keep flying back and forth from Florida to New York like that. So when you go, just tell them that you’re from Florida and if there’s going to be another call back or anything, if they could please have you do whatever you have to do while you’re there so that we don’t keep flying back and forth.” So I did that, and everybody was super kind and great about it.
After my second dance call, I did end up getting a call back to sing. So the morning of my flight home, I went in and sang for them material from the show they had sent me to learn overnight. I sang for them. Then I flew back home to Florida and then it had been like a month. I got a call the week before my birthday saying that if they had anything for me that I would hear by the week of my birthday. So I was waiting for my birthday to come and then I didn’t get a call. So I was so devastated. And I was like, “Ok, well I guess this really isn’t for me.” And I was actually joining another regional performance in my hometown and the first day of rehearsals for that show, I got home and I got a phone call from Beth Renoni, who’s one of the casting directors of Hamilton. And she said, “Yeah, we have a spot for you on the Broadway company as a vacation swing.” And I said, “There’s no way.” And she’s said, “No, it’s real. You can be excited.” So then I had to call the theater I was supposed to work for and be like, “I can’t come back. I have to move. And I booked something. I can’t tell you what it is yet.” And then within five days, I had moved, flew to the city with my mom, stayed in a hotel for a week trying to find an apartment. And I was in the Broadway company by January 7th or something starting to learn. So it was a lot.
SH: That sounds crazy and awesome! I usually like to ask actors if there’s a particular part of their character that they identify or connect with. However, from what I understand, it may be difficult to answer that question as an artist who mainly performs as part of the ensemble. However, I will ask, is there a particular character in Hamilton whom you identify or connect with? If so, in what way are you able to relate to them?
JM: Well, as a swing with the company, I know every single female ensemble part of the show. So I guess I would say the one that I love doing the most would be The Bullet, just because I love her storyline throughout this show and how she’s very symbolic of Hamilton’s lifeline throughout the whole entire story. She’s in pretty much every single number, whether you can see her or not, and she’s constantly following him. It’s like his life basically is just being followed by this thing that could end him, and he’s just continuing to go forward. But from the beginning of the show until the end of the show, you already know what’s going to happen.
I think Andy Blankenbuehler was really such an expert in creating the choreography surrounding The Bullet just because the way in which she appears in the show and travels throughout the show is so super cool to me. The choreography in the show is spectacular. So it’s so fun to do The Bullet, especially since she’s in pretty much every single number. And she gets to be featured throughout the show.
But if I didn’t have to choose an ensemble member, I think that I would feel most attuned to Eliza in a way, just because I feel like she’s a good middle ground between Angelica and Peggy who Angelica is super strong-willed and has the older sister vibe. Then Peggy’s just a little sister who doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers. And then Eliza is so adventurous and wants an exciting future and also wants to follow her heart for love, but at the same time, she’s so strong and reserved in her own self. So I really admire that about her.
SH: In your eyes, what does Hamilton represent within both American history, and today’s pop culture?
JM: So when Hamilton first came about, I was in high school and it was like really exciting for me to hear about a show that was centered around black and indigenous people of color and showing that the world is more than just one thing. America is built on the melting pot that is every single kind of different person and built on the backs of people that look like me. So when Hamilton was created, I was like, wow, a show full of people of color that I could see myself doing. And that was back in, when I was maybe a sophomore in high school at that point. And I was like, I feel like I’ve never been able to fully see myself on a Broadway stage, even though I’ve always dreamt of it. So when this came about, I was like, “Whoa, that’s specifically a spot for me that I can fill and I can attain that. It’s super possible.” Because I feel like with a lot of theater in general growing up, I’ve always wanted to be able to play a leading lady.
I’ve seen like an Elle Woods or like Veronica Sawyer, like those types of characters where I would, “Oh my gosh, I would love to play that teenage character.” But I’ve never seen one that looks like me. And I feel like now, especially after the summer with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and everything going on that the theater that we return to is going to be a little bit more equitable for everybody. And especially for kids coming up into it now, it won’t feel like they don’t have a place to fit in this society, and in this world of show business – everything will become accessible to everybody. I think that that’s just really important.
SH: Do you have a favorite song in Hamilton? If so, why do you like that song so much?
JM: I feel like I have three, but for very different reasons. So, “Yorktown” is my favorite dance number of the show. I always get super hype if I’m rehearsing the show or trying to get into it. “Yorktown” is the one number where, even though it’s the most exhausting number to do, it’s the one I look forward to every time we do the show, because it’s when we fully get to rip out everything that we’ve been compressing. Because the choreography in Hamilton is such contained energy and very specific, it’s telling such a story that when we get to Yorktown, it’s the war and everything, it’s like the moment in the show where we can fully just go a hundred percent.
I also really love “Wait For It” just because I feel like it gives us such insight into what Aaron Burr is doing and how he’s feeling the whole entire show. He is one of my favorite characters, just because I feel like when people first see the show, they see him as the villain and he’s everybody’s least favorite character, but if you truly watch and listen, you can see how human he is and how his wants and desires are being curbed by somebody who’s not doing what everyone was taught they needed to do in order to succeed. So you can see his frustration and everything, but at the end of it all, he’s still like, “I’m willing to wait for my moment. I’m willing to just keep my head down and do what I need to do in order to get forward.”
Then we get to “The Room Where It Happens” where he’s saying, “No, I need to step up for myself. I need to do what I need to do in order to get into those rooms and occupy those spaces.” So I love Room Where It Happens as well. Also, it’s just so jazzy and soulful and it’s super fun to sing, especially in all of the different women parts. I feel like I love how I sound in that song just because it’s the more riffy R&B part of my voice.
SH: Yeah, I like “Yorktown” too. I’ve never seen Hamilton live, but on Disney Plus when I watch it, I like how when the ensemble is doing the moves with the rifles in their hands, and then the audience cheers during that moment of silence.
JM: Yeah, I know. Right? And having it live is such a different experience because once we do everything and we’ve just had that big fight and then the spot lights come on and we’re there stuck, the audience goes crazy! The energy is just so much and that’s the end of Act I once we get to “Non-stop.”
SH: So tell us about your experience performing the Schuyler sisters at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Did it feel like a breath of fresh air with Broadway being shut down for so long?
JM: Yeah, because that was like eight or nine months into the pandemic at that point. And when Broadway first closed on March 12th, we were all just like, “Oh yeah, it’s got to be two weeks off, and we’ll recuperate. We’ll stretch. We’ll get re-centered and then we’ll come back with such, such an energy to the show. And it’ll be like opening night all over again.” And then obviously COVID was much more detrimental and scary and painful for a lot of people than we all thought. So I actually ended up going home for the first half of the first lockdown. And I was in Florida and I was saying, “Okay, if my job doesn’t come back, what do I do? How do I move forward?” and I was rethinking my whole entire life.
Then I went back to the city and we were told about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I ended up covering for one of the onstage members, Tanairi Vazquez because she wasn’t in the city at the time. So it was a full stroke of luck for me that she wasn’t available to be there; although I would have loved to see her do it because, Sidebar – Tanairi is one of the most amazing Broadway performers that I’ve ever seen or met in my life. But I got to play Woman Four so coming back to that was definitely like a breath of fresh air to be performing with my people again and doing the show and slipping on the costume, which felt like a superhero costume and everything in all of the rehearsals together.
It was interesting to see how we would come back in a world that was in the pandemic because there were a lot of precautions set in place. We had to wear our masks the whole time. We were temperature checked every single morning for rehearsal. We got three COVID tests, – I think – within the span of two weeks with the rehearsal and the live performance. On the day of the performance, we had our masks on right up until the moment they started rolling. We took them off, did the number, put them back on, took them off again, did another section. So yeah, it was like kind of hectic with all of the precautions and stuff, but it was really cool to be able to do something safe and also bring back live theater to an audience of people. Because I feel like at that point everybody was just kind of really down on the dumps about it all, which obviously it was just a really, really hard time and it still is a really, really hard time for everybody, but I’m a firm believer that art can provide so much healing for everybody.
SH: Same, me too.
JM: Yeah, so when we got to do the parade, it was like a celebration and also a standpoint as well because in the news and everything you were hearing from various different news channels and figure heads politically, that, “New York City is a ghost town. It’s dead. It’s never coming back again. Everybody’s leaving.” But it was a good way to say, “No, we’re still here, and we’re still going to be here when we come back and we’re going to be coming back better than ever.” So all in all, it was such a great experience. So fun to do the show again and get the choreography in my body again and also so cool to watch my parents watch me on TV.
SH: We’ve talked a lot about your role in the ensemble of Hamilton on Broadway, but I know that you played the voice of Agent Stepdaughter in the Netflix original movie, Secret Magic Control Agency. Could you tell us a little more about that movie and your role in it?
JM: So I have a friend named Eddy Lee; he’ll probably get mad at me for mentioning him because he always wants me to be able to have my own thing and stand in my own greatness and power, which is why he’s such a great friend. But truly I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even audition for this movie if it wasn’t for him.
So Eddy sent me an email about how they were looking for somebody to play this character, Agent Stepdaughter. At first I thought it was just going to be just like my first ever voiceover for an animated thing. I had no idea it was going to Netflix whatsoever. I thought it was going to be a DVD you could pick up at Walmart. And I said, “Ok, but that’s so exciting. I’m going to buy 10 copies and give them to everybody I know.”
After doing the audition for it and then booking the role and then going into the sound booth, which was my first time doing a voiceover gig, it was so cool to be able to see that I could do more than just put myself in the box of dancer first, because I’ve always struggled with that, just because that has always been my first discipline and I’ve been dancing for, I want to say, like 16 or 17 years. So being able to audition for something and then be recognized enough to get the role that’s outside of my complete comfort zone was super uplifting to me.
Then seeing the little animation come to life was so cool, but that happened maybe a year and a half ago. Up until this point, I had completely put it out of my mind. I was moving onto the next thing. Then it dropped on Netflix and nobody told me. I found out from a random text message and I said, “No way!” and then it turns out that Netflix bought it and we were trending as number two movie in the world for two weeks, and in the top four on Netflix for like two weeks. It was absolutely insane. I was super duper lucky and so grateful to be able to play Agent Stepdaughter. She’s so much fun!
While a live performance of Hamilton may not be accessible for most of us, fans can watch the original Broadway cast of the musical in the Hamilton movie on Disney+. Johanna Moise can be found on Instagram @johanna.moise, and Secret Magic Control Agency available to stream now on Netflix!