James Monroe Iglehart has been honing his craft as a talented thespian and vocalist since high school and has persisted in its mastery throughout his career. And now it's time for the payoff. After winning a Tony Award for his role as Genie in Aladdin, Iglehart went on to star in such critically-acclaimed Broadway productions as Memphis, among others.
Recently, I had the chance to talk with him about his most recent big time gig as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the sizzling hot Hip-Hop theater production Hamilton.
The Shadow League: What has the experience been like starring in Hamilton thus far?
James Monroe Iglehart: It's been a fun challenge because both of them are so different. Marquise de Lafayette is difficult in part because of the french accent. As far as the performance is concerned, both of my characters have the fastest raps in the entire show. So, I had to learn how to rap really fast. The guy who originated the role is a friend of mine. So, I got to learn from him. Literally, the hardest part was getting my stamina up because the set had a lot of steps. There was a lot of stairs everywhere. So, running up and down those steps was a learning curve.
TSL: What experiences have you had that best prepared you for this role?
JMI: I happened to be in the group Freestyle Love Supreme with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Sullivan, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Arthur Lewis. It is a Hip-Hop improv group where people throw words at us and we create an entire show. I've been with them for a few years and I have rapped with those guys. So I know their styles. Plus, I've been a freestyle rapper since I was 10 years old.
TSL: What are some of the universal truths about this production?
JMI: For our generation it's easy because we've lived Hip-Hop. When you take all the history out of it, it's really just about two guys. Usually, when you have a history class, it's a boring teacher telling us 'George Washington did this, Thomas Jefferson did that...' When you hear what their lives were really like you realize they were just regular guys who were also politicians and married men. Add Hip-Hop to it and you're just telling a story. So, it's really easy to bring the two together. We tend to build these people into larger than life characters when really they're just regular dudes who are going through something and are just trying to build a better something, and that something was America.
TSL: Prior to your debut what were some of your personal concerns about the production?
JMI: I think my main anxiety about Hamilton is that I don't mess up. It's a musical that is so well loved and so well done that you don't want to step in and do something stupid. And, also, you want to make sure you get all the words right. This is a phenomenon as far as musicals are concerned. There are so many people who know the soundtrack, and know it by heart, and will sing it with you while sitting in the audience.
TSL: What do you think people will ultimate get from Hamilton?
JMI: I think generations younger than ours will appreciate that its an art form they know. I think generations that are our age and older will appreciate the fact that it's something familiar that has been made brand new. One of the great things about being in Hamilton is looking out into the audience and seeing how diverse it is as far as age range is concerned. It's a good story, plus a good beat is a good beat. You can't help but nod your head and tap your feet.