Jonathan Groff Talks Return to Broadway with ‘Hamilton’

Jonathan Groff with Tituss Burgess at the NY GLAAD Media Awards in May (GETTY)

The cancellation of Looking still stings for all the fans of the HBO dramedy and it also always hold a special place in the heart of its star, Jonathan Groff, who talked to me recently about the end of the series. (Though, of course, we’ll get the wrap up movie next year!).

But he’s definitely keeping busy and jumped into the role of King George in the Public Theater production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, “Hamilton,” when Brian d’Arcy James (“Smash“) had to bow out for another commitment. Well, the show moved from the Public to Broadway last week, which marks Groff’s return to the place where his career started in “Spring Awakening” (which he starred in alongside his BFF, Lea Michele.

In the second part of our interview, Groff talks about the groundbreaking new musical, how he spends a break in the performances (during the time the show moved from the Public Theater to Broadway, Groff performed “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” in London and “The New Brain” at Encores in NYC) as well as how he relates to his new on-stage persona.

What I've been hearing is that this is a show that's changing theatre in a lot of ways. Do you think that that's a true statement?

Jonathan Groff: I do. I think that it’s one of those shows that comes along every couple of years that breathes new life into this genre and it’s just a fresh way of storytelling the way that Lin has created this show and the way he’s structured it. It’s a groundbreaking piece of theatre in sort of multiple levels. There’s the fact that the casting of the show is a huge thing in that it’s all the founding fathers but none of them are white in the cast of the show.

And that's just one element. I think the most groundbreaking thing abut it is it's sort of like America today telling the story of America then and America today meaning the way America looks today and the way music in America sounds today. So Lin is telling this historical story in a very kind of contemporary way and it's not like anything I've seen or unlike anything I've been a part of before. It's really fresh.

And I have had a lucky experience with the show because I replaced Brian d’Arcy James, who originated the role of King George but then he had to leave to do “Something Rotten” and so I was able to actually see the show before I went into it and I was in tears from the beginning of the show. He just blew my mind and so I’m really grateful that I got to see it before I jumped into it. I think it’s just an amazing piece of theatre.

Russell Tovey & Groff created big sparks in 'Looking' (HBO)

Since you were able to see Brian's performance, how did you process that? Did you think about it a lot or did you kind of keep that out of your head and just do your own take?

JG: In “Spring Awakening,” I originated the part and then did it for two years and we had a lot of people come in as replacements and so I have this set of rules for myself if I ever replaced anyone, having worked with replacements. The first thing is not mess anybody else up. That’s the first rule I have for myself, which is just make sure you know all the blocking, make sure you know all your lines, make sure you know where you’re standing and you know all the music. And the first thing is to just not mess anybody else up that have already been doing it in the show.

The second priority is to respect the person and the creation that you're stepping into, the person that did it before you, having reverence for the way that he created the role and how it fits into the context of the show as a whole. In the first week or two, I was doing pretty much exactly the things that Brian had done as respect to him and respect to the show as a whole, trying to just like plug in… after the first week or so of plugging in, then my own take on the character and my own point of view on the character starts to be uncovered as I get to process it performance to performance and that was kind of the way I went about it.

So the performance that I did as the King from my first week to my last week was very different as I found my own way into it, which is such a great gift being able to be in process in front of an audience. It's my favorite thing about theatre.

Groff appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” last month and talked about growing up in the Amish community.

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I’m not a history buff so I don’t know much about King George but I’m just curious how you relate to him and who this man was?

JG: Well, it’s interesting because the whole thing about “Hamilton” is that it’s putting those historical characters into a modern context and so the way that Lin has articulated King George in the show, it’s that he’s kind of written him [as] a nod to the ‘60s, almost a Beatles pop song. It’s a totally different music genre than the rest of the show because King George is in a totally different mindset and a totally different place obviously than the people that are experiencing the Revolution in America, and [Lin has] written this breakup song, this sort of jilted lover, like the United States of America is the lover that left him. So it’s a very relatable song and, like the character, the song brings down the house in a way that I think is really relatable, which is what [Lin’s] done with every character in every lifestyle in the show, I think he’s made it so relatable to a modern audience.

When you have a little break between performances, do you keep your head in the show a little bit or do you just kind of let it go for the time being?

JG: Because we had this with “Spring Awakening” as well…I try to completely release the show when we get the six weeks off so you’re able to come into the rehearsal process with a new perfected and a fresh energy. It’s such a gift to be able to run a show for a while and then take a break and then come back and do it again.

You can still watch “Looking” right here on XfinityTV. “Hamilton” is playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Get your tickets here. 

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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