Merry Christmas to all of our readers at LondonTheatre.co.uk! As the year (and this decade) comes to a close, there was only one show that we wanted to feature in our final 2019 edition of 5 Questions from Over the Pond and, simply put, it is perhaps the most widely celebrated production of the last decade... Yes, folks, we're talking the musical juggernaut that is Hamilton!
Following its 2015 Off-Broadway premiere at the Public Theater in New York City, Hamilton snowballed its way to the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway and straight into mainstream pop culture. With a staggering total of 11 Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Grammy for 'Best Musical Theater Album' to boot, Hamilton looked to spread its dominance overseas in December 2017 with a West End premiere. With producing mogul Cameron Mackintosh on board, the London production opened to rave reviews at the newly-refurbished Victoria Palace Theatre, sweeping the 2018 Olivier Awards with 8 wins, including 'Best New Musical'. Further international productions for Germany (2020) and Australia (2021) are in the works.
For our Hamilton-themed edition of 5 Questions from Over the Pond, we've been fortunate enough to pair up an original London company member with one of the biggest stars currently in the Broadway production... three-time Olivier Award nominee Jason Pennycooke and Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart!
Jason, an ubertalented actor and choreographer from Leeds, has built a steady fan base in the West End over the years thanks to his Olivier-nominated turns as Jacob in La Cage aux Folles, as Bobby in Memphis, and, of course, as the dual roles of the Marques de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton. He has also appeared on the West End stage in The Big Life and Guys and Dolls and additional choreography credits include Soul Sister and Porgy and Bess. And if he wasn't busy enough already, he also found time to star as Wilson in this year's musical biopic "Rocketman," charting the life and career of Sir Elton John.
On the other side of the pond, James has also enjoyed a hectic year. Alongside his duties as the Marques de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway production of Hamilton, he has guest starred in the Broadway premiere of the Hip Hop improv comedy show freestyle love supremeand originated the role of Philoctetes (aka Phil) in Public Works' world premiere of Disney's Hercules in Central Park. Of course, the latter isn't the only Disney credit on his résumé, famously winning a Tony Award for originating the role of Genie in the hit musical Aladdinon Broadway and voicing the role of Lance Strongbow in Disney's "Tangled: The Series" on television. James also originated the role of Bobby in Memphis (later to be originated in London by Jason) and made his Broadway debut in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
So, Jason and James, thank you for not saying No to this and throwing away your shot (sorry, we couldn't resist)... It's time to fire away with your questions...
James: What went through your mind the first time you put on the Jefferson trench coat?
Jason: My Name is Prince and I am funky! Also: I’m gonna probs slip on this and fall down the stairs… (and I did!).
James: What number in the show (that you are not in) do you try to catch & watch if you can?
Jason: “Blow Us All Away” and “Say No To This.”
James: Which song was harder to wrap your lips around “Guns & Ships” or the last few bars of “Washington On Your Side”?
Jason: “Guns & Ships,” definitely, whilst trying to keep an authentic French accent!
James: What Black UK-born entertainer do you feel deserves a musical & why?
Jason: Ignatius Sancho - a very influential figure in the arts. He was born on a slave ship and was brought to England by his owner as an orphan, where he worked as a butler. However, the man for whom he worked saw how clever he was and supported his creativity. Sancho wrote plays, poetry and music, and eventually ended up setting up his own shop in London, where other creative people like him could meet up. He used his ability to read and write to speak out against the slave trade too. Aside from his creativity, he is also the first known black British voter. Black people didn't use to be able to vote when white people could, because they were not treated the same. A story waiting to be told, Lin...???
James: What was the funniest moment you have ever had on stage?
Jason: There are too many to mention! Though here are 2:
Firstly, when I came on stage too early for “Satisfied” everybody was in a freeze frame apart from me. I then ran to the nearest staircase and froze with my hands in the air and my back to the audience (like I’d been arrested) waiting for my real entrance, while the rest of the cast pointed and laughed!
Second, was when my dresser put the wrong coat on me in the dark, so I arrived on stage in “My Shot’ wearing my Jefferson purple coat!!! For those that don’t know the show, in “My Shot” I’m playing Lafayette and NOT Jefferson. I had to stay as Jefferson until I changed into my army coat in “Right Hand Man”! Everyone was laughing, apart from me.
James: Bonus question - How big was your smile when you realized we’ve played two of the same & extremely fun roles in theatre, Bobby in Memphis & Lafayette/Jefferson in Hamilton?
Jason: Bonus Question, James seriously?! Lol… So, when I first found out I was playing Bobby then found out who played it before me I was like, “I can see the similarity” (wink, wink). Then when I got Hamilton, I thought: I hope he doesn’t think I’m stalking him! Though it was an equal joy to know that I was standing on the shoulders of the likes of Iglehart!
Check out West End star Jason Pennycooke's 5 questions for Broadway's James Monroe Iglehart on our New York Theatre Guide sister site here!