A Peek into ‘Hamilton’
Original cast member Anthony Ramos visits campus to discuss the man — and the musical
By Daniel P. Smith
Lively, dynamic and energetic, Anthony Ramos brought a piece of “Hamilton: An American Musical” to the Northwestern University campus on Feb. 3.
One of the lead performers in the acclaimed musical’s original Broadway cast, Ramos visited Lutkin Memorial Hall for an afternoon of live music and reflective conversation with faculty and students, including two groups of cohorts taking Hamilton-themed courses during the current winter quarter.
Over the 90-minute program, Ramos mixed songs from “Hamilton,” including the hip-hop inspired “Alexander Hamilton” and soulful “Dear Theodosia,” alongside some of his original musical creations and candid discussion on a range of issues connected to his role in the show as well as his personal journey onto the Broadway stage.
“‘Hamilton’ changed my life,” Ramos said, adding that he was proud to “give a piece of [himself] to the world.”
A ‘Hamilton’ original
During the show’s Broadway run, Ramos played Hamilton’s fellow revolutionary John Laurens as well as Hamilton’s son, Philip. The Brooklyn-bred Ramos said Hamilton’s hardscrabble life resonated with him.
“Hamilton spoke to me because he was an immigrant, an orphan who grew up with nothing, and he had to use his genius, his art, to pull himself out,” Ramos said.
Yet the musical’s content speaks to something else, Ramos noted: contemporary times. Lyrics from “Hamilton,” in fact, have been spotted on posters at social justice demonstrations across the U.S.
“The musical’s about revolution, how everybody’s fighting for something,” Ramos said. “The words are timeless … and it’s a show relevant for every moment in time.”
Ramos recounted being on stage as Laurens following the recent November election when the audience — in a break from every previous performance — applauded after he sang the line “Tomorrow there will be more of us.”
“That made me think: ‘What am I doing to lead?’” Ramos said.
In his show-closing number, Ramos answered that very question when he performed an original, work-in-progress number tentatively titled “Freedom,” an introspective lyrical examination of our nation’s current social, cultural and political state.
“One thing I’ve learned: don’t be oblivious,” said Ramos, who performed alongside fellow musicians Will Wells and Rob Manganaro. “You should be informed so you know what you’re fighting for.”
Added depth and perspective
Ramos’ afternoon program was open to Northwestern faculty, staff and students, including those currently enrolled in one of two courses studying the U.S. founding father and his biographical musical.
History professors Caitlin Fitz and Geraldo Cadava’s “Hamilton’s America” class jointly examines Hamilton the man as well as “Hamilton” the musical, a juxtaposition designed to help students investigate the power of history to shape and reshape the world we live in today.
Legal studies professors Laura Beth Nielsen and Joanna Grisinger, meanwhile, are leading an interdisciplinary course titled “Hamilton: Bullets, Banks and Broadway” examining how various scholarly disciplines approach Hamilton.
Jake Phillips, a student “Hamilton’s America,” called Ramos’ performance in such an intimate setting “incredible.”
“He’s someone who really understands the spirit of what the artistic enterprise of ‘Hamilton’ is doing, and it was inspiring to see that his part in that goes beyond the stage,” said Phillips, a junior majoring in history and religious studies.
Phillips’ classmate in the history course, junior American Studies major Chelsea Hammersmith, appreciated hearing Ramos’ perspective as one of the musical’s founding cast members.
“To learn about the research he did and what he tried to bring to the role added depth to the very topics we’re exploring in class,” Hammersmith said.Back to top