Renée Elise Goldsberry Reflects On Her Hamilton Journey

Diva Talk   Diva Talk: Renée Elise Goldsberry Reflects On Her Hamilton Journey The acclaimed singing actress discusses her role in the hit musical and her gratitude for receiving a Tony nomination.
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Renée Elise Goldsberry

Renée Elise Goldsberry, whose Broadway credits include Good People, The Color Purple, The Lion King and Rent, earned her first Tony nomination May 3 for her performance as Angelica Schuyler in the mega-hit musical Hamilton, which received a whopping 16 Tony nominations, including one for Best Musical.

“[I was] watching CBS This Morning and jumping around and happy hearing so many names of friends, [including Eclipsed playwright] Danai [Gurira]," Goldsberry told Playbill the morning the nominations were announced. "I, unfortunately, didn’t have the live feed playing, so I was grateful to hear via text and email from so many friends that were watching for me, to tell me that I had a nomination as well—so happy. [I’m] grateful and honestly shocked because it’s always shocking and surprising when anyone calls your name. It’s such a prestigious group of people, such a prestigious award. You know, most of my time with this job has always been figuring out how to do it justice. You don’t really let your brain go to the kind of highest level of awards, you just want to be worthy of it every night. Just to think that on top of that you have a Tony nomination—it really, you know, just makes you want to cry.”

Goldsberry is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical in a field that also includes Danielle Brooks (The Color Purple), Jane Krakowski (She Loves Me), Jennifer Simard (Disaster!) and Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along). "Whether or not you’re recognized [for a nomination], you already win that you get to do this [job]," Goldsberry explains. "It's just like the best cherry on top ever. To have the Tony nomination and to be talking to you right now and just see my name on a list with all those awesome women, most of them I know very well. They’re so great. And every one of them is so deserving of every possible award. I’m so grateful.”

“I don’t know that there would ever be a season where your mind wouldn’t be blown [to receive a nomination]," Goldsberry continues. "It's the Tony's! It's the most talented people in the world, and everyone’s at the top of their game, and you can be brilliant in a show and not be recognized, and you’re still brilliant in your show."

The ladies of <i>Hamilton</i>
The ladies of Hamilton Joan Marcus

Since its debut last season at the Public Theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton has received one accolade after another, including a Grammy Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When asked what moments stand out in her mind, the singing actress says, “I don’t think I’ll forget anything, not a thing. I mean, the workshop we did two years ago, the first time an audience showed up, that feeling of sharing this for the very first time with a group of people, and that feeling doesn’t diminish ever. It still blows my mind that I get to do this.”

“I feel that way in every show," Goldsberry adds, "but Hamilton has just been surreal in that it’s been recognized in so many different ways that feel really new and surprising. But just to get to do this is a miracle. … When you get to live your dream, with singing and dancing and acting and playing these wonderful stories, you really have already won, and you always have to remember that.”

And, what is the challenge of playing the eldest of the Schuyler Sisters?

“It starts off just being able to do it at all,” Goldsberry says with a laugh. "I think I was just telling Lin last night, in the beginning it was really challenging just to figure out how to make sound at the end of the song ['Satisfied'] when emotionally my breath was just taken away. The character is just so beautifully constructed, the scene is so beautifully constructed. It’s a wonderful musical theatre moment and just dramatically was really hard to do. The challenge changes over the last two years of playing it, and different things become hard.

“I’m always anxious, to say the least, before [the show begins] about ‘Will I be able to pull it off?’ and I’m always shocked and grateful when and if I do.…There’s a group of people who paid a lot of money to come see this show [every night], and this might be their one chance, and I have to figure out how to pull it off. I can never take that for granted. The challenge changes, but it never gets easier.”

Goldsberry, who won the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for her beautiful work in Hamilton Off-Broadway, says she has yet had the opportunity to meet any of the relatives of the Schuyler Sisters, ”but I researched them a lot, and I feel very close to them. I was just at Trinity Church, and my latest goal is to try to get a plaque there, where we believe Angelica Schuyler is buried. That’s something that is a really wonderful legacy that the show seems to be a part of and that will be one of the recognitions of this brilliant and wonderful woman.”

Goldsberry Sings Sondheim: This televised performance may have been where I first noticed the true beauty of Goldsberry’s silky tones. I vividly remember rewinding the ending of her version of “The Miller's Son” several times just to hear her unique take on the final lines. “That was another moment where I was scared out of my mind,” Goldsberry said earlier this week. “It’s funny, somebody tweeted that to me recently, and I watched it again and felt that it was really wonderful practice for what I do as Angelica Schuyler. Really, really wonderful practice, and it’s ironic, as scary as that was to do, this is what I do every night.” Watch the performance below:

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.

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