On April 7, my pal Jason Ma, the creator of Gold Mountain, invited me to see Marc delaCruz star as Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway production of Hamilton. Marc joined the Broadway company in October and had his first performance as an onstage cover in the Man 5 ensemble track playing Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/Doctor on December 1st. He made history on January 18th when he became the first Asian American to star as Alexander Hamilton on Broadway. In addition to the title role, Marc understudies Philip Hamilton, John Laurens and King George.
In 2014-15, Marc made his Broadway debut in If/Then by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, directed by Michael Greif. He played David in the National tour opposite Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp.
Last year, Marc’s leading man status was on full display as Quang in Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone at Studio Theatre in Washington D.C.; as Dan in Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Next to Normal at Tantrum Theater in Dublin, Ohio; and as Jason in Keen Company’s Off-Broadway revival of the fan favorite musical Ordinary Days by Adam Gwon, which recently received a Drama League Award nomination for Outstanding Revival of a Broadway or Off-Broadway musical.
Marc was gracious enough to pose for a few photos prior to his star turn and we visited onstage after the show. Below is our interview.
Lia: What did the audition process entail?
Marc: The audition process for me took place over a period of a few months. My first audition was for the casting directors at Telsey where I was given a couple of songs cuts to prepare. Over the course of my next appointments I was given more and more material to learn and perform since I was being considered as a principal cover. I eventually had a work session with Patrick Vassel (associate and supervising director) and Matt Gallagher (associate music supervisor) and then a final audition with Tommy Kail and Alex Lacamoire. By the end of the process I had learned all of the audition material for Hamilton, Burr and King George. Those last two auditions probably lasted about a half an hour to forty-five minutes each.
Lia: How did you prepare?
Marc: Once I received the audition music I spent every spare minute I had learning and drilling the songs. With regard to the Hamilton music—since I didn’t have a lot of experience rapping—I wanted to know it inside out so that I could feel comfortable and spontaneous in the audition room. The more repetition I gave myself with the music the more relaxed I felt and open to exploring different choices. I also coached with my friend Jasper Grant who is incredible. He knows this music well and opened me up to many different ways of approaching the music and characters so that I could find something unique and personal in my interpretations of these well known songs.
Lia: Are you a history buff?
Marc: I am not a huge history buff but working on the show certainly has me curious about the inner lives of all kinds of historical figures.
Lia: What did it feel like to lead the cast and make history as the first Asian American Alexander Hamilton on Broadway?
Marc: The role of Hamilton is so epic so I was daunted by the task of performing the role as an understudy. How do I step in and do justice to this character and incredible company of performers? But the first time I went on as Hamilton, I received such support and care from the cast and crew—there was no judgement, it was clear we were all doing this together. As one of the Hamilton understudies I get to perform the role every now and then and every time I do I can feel the same kind of support from everybody in the building. The first time I went on, the fact that I was the first Asian American to play the role on Broadway wasn’t even on my mind. I was so focused on trying to get everything right. But afterward when people started posting things on social media and there was all kinds of celebration I realized what this meant for Asian and minority communities. I received many kind messages and shout outs. It touched me deeply that people felt empowered and proud knowing that an Asian man played this role on Broadway. The whole experience was very humbling and I was deeply touched by the reactions.
Lia: What is your biggest challenge in performing the character?
Marc: I think my biggest challenge is to stay grounded. I can easily get swept up in the fast pace of the show and athleticism of rapping that I lose touch with my body and breath. I have to constantly remind myself to stay relaxed. You might find me actually squatting backstage between scenes just to get closer to the ground!
Lia: How many other Asian Americans in the company?
Marc: There are five cast members, two musicians and one crew member currently in the Broadway company who are Asian American. The cast members are Eddy Lee, Karla Garcia, Christina Glur, Sabrina Imamura and myself; our musicians are Robin Macatangay (guitar) and Mario Gotoh (violin); and on crew we have Anna Lee Craig, one of team sound’s original A2’s. Besides us there is tons of Asian representation in all of the Hamilton companies. Look up the casts online, past and present, and you’ll see that Asian representation in Hamilton is not a new phenomenon—starting with Philippa Soo!
Lia: Over the last year, you have had the opportunity to shine in leading roles inVietgone, Next to Normal and Ordinary Days. I had the opportunity to witness your extraordinary performance in Ordinary Days. After the show you mentioned that it was the “biggest” role that you played to date. Please share something about each character, and what you enjoyed most about playing each role.
Marc: Each of these roles taught me something new and challenged me in a different way. The role of Quang in Vietgone is so epic and required me to bring everything I had to the table physically, vocally and emotionally. The character goes through such a roller coaster of emotions and experiences—there are humorous as well as dramatic moments, a huge fight sequence, singing (the production we did replaced the rap sequences from the original production with 70’s style rock songs written by Jeff Song), not to mention playing an older version of the character in the end. This production, directed by Natsu Onoda Power was beautifully kinetic. I also loved that the play, written by Qui Nguyen and featuring an all Asian cast, is so unapologetic. There are no model minorities here. The characters swear, get horny, get angry, get high. It was also gratifying and empowering to play an Asian man who is allowed to be sexy and the romantic lead of a story. Qui’s play flips the script for us Asian Americans in so many ways and the fact that it was popular shows that audiences are eager to see Asians in a different kind of light.
Dan in Next to Normal was a different kind of stretch. The role of a suburban professional husband father of a teenager is not something I’d normally gravitate toward. It was fun to imagine this life which is so far from what I know as an actor living in New York City. Plumbing the emotional depths of the show and character were also a wonderful challenge and we were gifted with an amazing cast and creative team who were willing, trusting and eager to go as deeply as possible in our work. I loved the process of considering what is “normal” in this country and challenging these presumptions from all angles. It also meant a lot to me that I as a person of color, specifically Asian American, could be considered as the father/husband figure of an ostensibly normal American family. I appreciate Tantrum Theater and our director Robert Barry Fleming for casting Dan and Diana as an interracial couple. I think it further broadened the scope of the conversation about normalcy that the show presents.
Playing Jason in Ordinary Days with Keen Company (directed by Jonathan Silverstein) was an awesome challenge in song interpretation. With a cast of four, the show is incredibly intimate and we each spent a lot of time singing alone onstage. I also loved the character of Jason described only as a guy in his 30’s. The relationship of Jason and Clair (played by the luminous Whitney Bashor) was one of the arcs of the show. Very simply, I was playing “the guy”, not “the Asian guy” or the sidekick or another predicable role for an Asian actor. I was simply a guy in love with a girl. The show itself was so simple and beautiful and Adam’s music and lyrics seem to go straight to the heart. I loved singing these songs and hanging out with our small cast, crew and musicians. There was a gentle magic about this show I’ll never forget. I’m also happy to report that the production just received a Drama League Award nomination for Outstanding Revival of a Broadway or Off-Broadway musical!
Being able to do these three shows in a row was a real gift, mostly because everybody working on these productions was so passionate, intelligent and generous of spirit. I learned so much. It was an embarrassment of riches to get to spend time in a rehearsal room and onstage with such ridiculously talented artists on important, impactful, and beautifully crafted pieces.
Lia: As an Asian American actor, do you feel a responsibility to represent?
Marc: Yes I do feel a sense of responsibility. Asian and Asian American communities are desperate for representation and I try to embrace what it might mean for other Asians whenever I have the opportunity to step onstage. While on tour with If/Then, a young Asian American man stopped me at the stage door after the show, almost with tears in his eyes, shook my hand and thanked me for my performance. It meant so much to him to see an Asian actor playing a role with no ethnic designation (as is the case with all the roles in If/Then). Seeing Asian actors and actresses in multidimensional roles on stage or screen is a huge deal for Asian people. I grew up thinking I was at a disadvantage because I was Asian in this country and that was largely due to the fact that I never saw people who looked like me in movies, TV or on stage. I felt inferior because of my ethnicity and I was resentful of it. Now, whenever I get the chance to perform it gives me an opportunity to heal that resentment and pain. I’m happy for anything I can do to help others feel empowered and proud of who they are or just simply feel seen. I’d venture to say that there’s a particular excitement about an Asian man playing Alexander Hamilton because Asian men still struggle to be seen as sexy, powerful, romantic or as an engine of change in this country. The landscape is shifting no doubt, but these changes have been a long time coming and I don’t think we’re there yet. I’m excited by this blossoming and more vocal sense of pride in being Asian that we are experiencing (cue Sandra Oh: “It’s an honor just to be Asian.”) It feels like a reclamation of our identity and sense of self-assertion in response to centuries of being identified by others. Because of this, the accomplishments of any one Asian person is celebrated by the community at large. It’s not just about representing, it is about lifting each other up.
Lia: Where did you go to school?
Marc: I went to the University of Washington in Seattle and received a B.A. in International Studies with a minor in Japanese.
Lia: When did you move to New York?
Marc: The fall of 2006.
Lia: What would you consider were your formative years as an artist?
Marc: It’s hard to say because I feel like I’m still in them! I hope I never reach a point where I feel completely formed as an artist. You could point to any period of time since I started doing this and I can easily tell you how I grew artistically during that time. But, there are two time periods when I think my understanding of myself as an artist accelerated. The first period is the time I spent working in theater in Seattle. I consider this the time I cut my teeth in the theater profession. I performed in a wide variety of shows both golden age and contemporary, musical and non-musical. I did school touring productions, new works, readings and I worked with incredible and passionate artists in all departments who taught me an appreciation and respect for the art form. The second period is the last three or so years when I received opportunities to play more complex roles. I’ve spent more time these past years better understanding and accepting myself as a person and this has helped me grow as an artist.
Lia: Has your family also been supportive of your chosen profession?
Marc: My family has always been very supportive. Anytime I get cast in a show my favorite part is calling my parents to tell them. My parents have flown to New York all the way from Hawai’i twice to see me perform. My siblings, nephews and niece are always cheering me on, celebrating when I get cast in something and propping me up in the midst of countless rejections.
Lia: Who inspires you?
Marc: How much space do I have! I am constantly inspired by other people—fellow artists, old friends, my family. A few people who come to mind today are Jordan Peele, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the Standing Rock protesters, the Parkland students, sci-if writer Kim Stanley Robinson, Sandra Oh, George Takei, my mom, dad, brother and sister, Lin-Manuel Miranda. The list really goes on.
Lia: Any directors, shows, composers that you would like to work with/in?
Marc: I’d love to do more Sondheim shows. I admire the work of Ivan Van Hove, Rachel Chavkin, John Chu, Ang Lee, Leigh Silverman, May Adrales, John Doyle, Bartlett Sher, Ma-Yi Theater and NAATCO to name only a few.
Lia: If you were not performing, what would you be doing?
Marc: I think I’d be working in international relations, maybe in diplomacy or journalism, or teaching yoga.
Lia: What drives you?
Marc: The necessity of storytelling; representation of Asians in the arts and media; relieving the burden of my own internalized shame and inferiority; connecting with other humans; beauty in all its infinite forms; the desire to understand human nature; learning new skills; creating a just and equitable society; seeking the truth.
Broadway: Hamilton (Ensemble, u/s Alexander Hamilton, Laurens/Philip, King George), If/Then (OBC, swing, u/s David). Off-Broadway: Ordinary Days (revival, Jason, Keen Company), Three Days to See (Transport Group), Pacific Overtures (standby, Classic Stage Company), Prison Dancer (Hookaps, NYMF). National Tours/International: If/Then (David), Disney’s High School Musical, Where Elephants Weep (Cambodian Living Arts, Cambodia). Regional: Vietgone (Quang, Studio Theatre), Next to Normal (Dan, Tantrum Theatre), Allegiance (Old Globe Theatre), work with the 5th Avenue Theatre, Village Theatre, ReAct, San Jose Rep, North Carolina Theatre, Casa Manana.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.
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