Wednesday, June 7, 2023

It Feels Like Home to Me

Hamilton star Renée Elise Goldsberry brings Tony-award winning performances to Toledo

Fans of Renée Elise Goldsberry are very likely to recognize her from Hamilton, the most widely celebrated Broadway hit in recent years that has created a whole new generation of unlikely theater fans.

Along with her role as the colonial socialite Angelica Schuyler in that production, you might also recognize her as playing the title role in the HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or as the kick-ass revolutionary action hero in the Netflix sci-fi series Altered Carbon. Goldsberry has been on the scene for years, performing in Broadway sensations like Rent, The Color Purple and The Lion King, to feature films like her newest release, Waves.

The Tony and Emmy-award winner has been traveling the country, performing with symphonies to bring the Broadway songs she’s known for to the public. It’s a show packed with many genres, and now Goldsberry is bringing it to the Glass City, where she will join the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in what she affectionately calls “a celebration that stirs our souls to love.”

I read that you have a strong connection to Toledo. Is that right?
I grew up in Detroit, so I’ve definitely crossed that border quite a few times. I had a friend who went to college [in Toledo], so I used to visit her while I was in high school. I feel like it’s the sister town. I don’t know what the official title is. It feels like home to me.

I’ve been doing this concerting for about two years now. We’ve been all over the country, and I just felt like [something] was missing because I had not been to this Toledo/Detroit area. I’m really excited about being so close to home and really grateful to everybody who wants to come out and have a party with us. I think there’s no better way to start the new year than with celebrating love and good music.

You’ll be singing with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Can you share with us what you’ll be singing, possibly from Rent, The Lion King, and Hamilton?
I’ll be singing with my band who will be performing with the Symphony. We will be performing songs I’ve done that people are hoping to hear, and we’ll also be performing some pop songs, some soul music, jazz, some standards. Really, the only thing we want to make sure that we do is to fill the room with music that stirs our souls to love. It’s a universal message that we’ve been able to travel with around the country, and what we find is that we’re having a party with the best musicians in the world, and they’re right there in Toledo. We’ll be doing songs that people know and love that celebrate the best of us.

Will you be performing your original songs that are based on the poetry of Maya Angelou?
That is the concert I’m preparing for the next series. The Maya Angelou concert is what we’re bringing the next time we come to Toledo, probably next year when the album is out. Interestingly enough, when the idea was started to perform with symphonies, we were going to do it with this Maya Angelou concert. And we were going to wait, but so much of this pop and Broadway music sounds so wonderful with an orchestra that we decided to start with this show and it’s been proven very successful.

Which pop and jazz songs can people expect to hear at the show?
We sing “On a Clear Day,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” some Sarah Vaughan songs, Bob Dylan blues songs… we sing songs from Rent, Lion King, and Hamilton. We really kind of go across the whole gamut. We sing some spiritual songs…we’re just going to be raising the roof with some Sweet Honey and The Rock, a really wonderful group of women who sing spirituals. I have three women who sing background for me who fill the room with the most glorious sounds you’ve ever heard.

It really is a party. It’s a rock concert, it’s a jazz concert, it’s a blues concert, then it’s a celebration of broadway. It’s really amazing to hear so many different types of music with such a wonderful orchestra.

Let’s talk about your role in Hamilton as Angelica Schulyer. When you were cast, did you have any idea how huge it was going to be?
I knew it was the greatest thing I had ever stumbled into. I knew the first time I heard the music that it was just…life changing. I had no idea how big a musical could become. I didn’t know that we would have this great honor of breaking out of the genre and doing so well across the board. That was something I had not seen happen before, so that’s probably the most exciting thing. Entertainment right now— the way we consume it— is different silos all over the place of what you like. You can really go off in the corner and watch whatever you love. It’s a very unique thing for any one piece of art or entertainment to really pop so many bubbles— so many groups of people, so many different demographics, people that love different kinds of things. You know, people like Hamilton who don’t even like theater, that don’t even like musicals, that don’t like history. Young people, old people, people who don’t like rap. We were able to make inroads into so many different groups of people, and that is a really unique experience that I didn’t see coming that I am very grateful for.

One thing that’s wonderful about doing a concert and playing that music is that there are people there who know it better than I do at this point.They want to sing along. Then there are people who don’t know the music who just love to support their local symphony, and they all enjoy it when they hear it.

Is there a song you plan on singing for the concert that you can foresee the big Hamilton fans singing along to the most?
I’m not going to spoil it, but I will tell you that it’s very satisfying.

Nice teaser! I’m so impressed with the breadth of your work: Broadway hits, TV shows, and films throughout the years. Which roles have you considered to be the biggest game-changers for your career?
I feel that way about all of them right, even those that are lesser-known. I’ve found so much joy in playing different Shakespeare roles at the public theater. And I really enjoy playing a revolutionary, sci-fi action hero on a show called Altered Carbon on Netflix, which is about to release its second season in a couple of months.

I’ve enjoyed the historical figures like Angelica Schuyler and Henrietta Lacks. I’m currently in a film called Waves, which is in theaters. It’s is a wonderful, very current film. I play a mother in a family that’s going through a lot of challenges and has to figure out how to persevere.

So, yeah, I really enjoy the breadth of work and the different mediums I’ve been able to do it in. The greatest challenge is standing on a stage as me, without some wonderful character and lines to stand behind, but just trying to share as much of myself as possible. That’s the most daunting and most enjoyable. It’s the role that gives me the most anxiety, honestly, because I feel like, if you come to spend two hours with me, you should really feel that you got to know me. It should be more than a couple of hours of great music, as wonderful as that is. I enjoy sharing stories of the reasons why I chose some of the songs and my experience performing some of those songs. I want to share as much of that as possible.

The artists that I enjoy the most are really open about their thoughts and things they’ve learned and their fears. They do a really good job of dispelling any notions of them being free of mistakes and failures. I like to be as open and vulnerable as possible. I think it’s the most valuable thing I can do with any time I spend anywhere. That’s what I try to do in these concerts, and it’s been really wonderful. It’s felt like a really safe and interesting space.

Do you do any of your own stunts in Altered Carbon?
Thank you for asking! I did as many as I possibly could. The reason why it’s awesome and amazing is that I did a lot of it, and that I had an amazing stunt woman who did it better. It’s really important to do both. It was a huge dream of mine to be an action star, and to be able to do it in that series telling that story has been more than I could have dreamed of.

The work that the stunt people do in all of our shows is probably the most amazing thing you could ever imagine. Those people are fearless, incredibly talented— they’re constantly training— and we stand in awe of the work they do. They turn all of us into superheroes. So definitely I give all props to the stunt team. One thing I don’t think people know about stunts in these shows is that you work so closely with your stunt double that they basically teach you all of the work that you’re doing and make sure you look as awesome as possible doing it, and then they go ahead and do it also, just in case that footage gets used instead. But it is a wonderful partnership, one that is very humbling.

Some of the best shows that I’ve been to are definitely those where they let you behind the curtain in that way – giving you a little piece of themselves. Are there artists who have influenced you in their ability to do that?
Oh my goodness, all of them. I can go back to the greats— I’m a huge Sarah Vaughan fan. Like you mentioned, also a Maya Angelou fan. These are people who, when they talk, it’s just money. Sharing what’s on the top of their mind. I was just watching some footage of Nina Simone in concert, and I was just amazed at her stream of consciousness talking and how fascinating it was. There’s a moment in a concert when she’s fighting with the microphone— maybe the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen! I love to go the greats, but I also have some really great friends who I enjoy immensely. Two friends from Hamilton that are doing a great job leading the way—Leslie Odom Jr. and Anthony Ramos. I’ve really enjoyed watching their concert careers and their recording careers blossom, and they’ve been inspirational to me.

$28-$70 | 8pm | Saturday, January 25
Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.
419-246-8000 |

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