Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” the Broadway tour de force sweeping over the nation, opened in Chicago in fall of 2016 with UH College of the Arts alumnus Jonathan Kirkland (Master of Music in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy 2012) in the coveted role of George Washington. The hip-hop musical, which raked in an incredible 11 Tony Awards, is sold out well into 2017 in New York and plays to a packed house at every performance in Chicago.
Kirkland studied opera at UH but his proclivity for musical theatre radiated through his performances, causing his instructors to take notice. “He’s a very charismatic performer,” said Buck Ross, founder and director of the Moores Opera Center. “We felt like he could be a leading man—a real star—on Broadway.”
“My heart has always been on the stage,” said Kirkland. “I love to perform and entertain others, and UH provided me with the tools to perform a range of music.”
Following graduation, Kirkland developed his musical theatre repertoire in New York City. He earned roles in off-Broadway productions and traveled with vocal groups before auditioning for his game-changing role in “Hamilton” last summer.
The power of the story’s message resonates deeply with Kirkland. He said that because “Hamilton” encourages the audience to think about the values America was founded on, it asks the nation to consider what it means to be the “land of the free” where “all men are created equal.”
In particular, “Hamilton” has been lauded for breaking down barriers with its diverse and inclusive cast. “The idea has always been to [cast it to] look the way America looks now, and that doesn’t exclude anyone,” said Miranda in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine.
Kirkland said that that, in addition to giving a voice to people of color, “Hamilton” connects with audiences on the most universal level. “This show does a great job of articulating the fact that we’re all human. The story is so inspirational. It’s for anyone with hopes, desires or a dream,” he said. “Plus, the music is awesome!”
When First Lady Michelle Obama introduced the musical at the 2016 Tony Awards, alongside President Barack Obama, she cited its ability to tap into the spirit of the country. “[‘Hamilton’ is] a musical about the miracle that is America,” she said. “[It’s] a place of citizenship where we debate ideas with passion and conviction…a place of opportunity where, no matter how humble our origins, we can make it if we try.”