The musical “Hamilton” tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. The musical enjoys cult status in America. Barack Obama is one of the most prominent fans. The German translation of the musical can be seen in Hamburg.
In the interview, two of the main actors now give backstage insights behind the scenes: Benét Monteiro (“Alexander Hamilton”) and Charles Simmons (“George Washington”) talk about the casting and how to deal professionally with stage fright.
Bénet Monteiro, you embody the lead role of Alexander Hamilton in the musical. What does this role mean for you personally?
Bénet Monteiro: Hamilton is the biggest challenge of my life, but also the most exciting experience. Alexander Hamilton left his country at a very young age to pursue his dream. That’s exactly what I did too. When I came to Germany, I was 24 years old and had a clear goal in mind. I wanted to do what my heart longed for. This is what ultimately led me to the role of Alexander Hamilton!
How did you get the role back then?
Monteiro: At the beginning of the casting, I didn’t apply for Alexander Hamilton at all. But presented for Thomas Jefferson. In the second phase of the casting I was asked if I could watch Hamilton as well. When I then delved deeper into the role of Alexander Hamilton, I was able to identify with this story much more. I knew I could tell that exact story!
Charles Simmons, you play the leading role of George Washington. What does this role mean for you personally?
Charles Simmons: George Washington is very important to me, both as an artist and as an American citizen. I’ve learned a lot about George Washington all my life – American history was my major in school. And when I got the chance to play George Washington, I immediately said yes. For me as an American, George Washington is an important man! It was interesting to see how complex he was. Complex as a person and as a leader of this nation. To be able to present all this in a musical was a great incentive for me.
What parallels do you see between yourself and “George Washington”?
Simmons: I see parallels in that I play an important role in other people’s lives not only as an artist, but also as a teacher and as a father. George Washington was the first President of our country and he had a certain responsibility that all leaders have. Even if not everyone is happy to take on this responsibility. I can already see parallels to my life as a teacher and father of two children.
Charles Simmons, your singing voice may be familiar to some from television. On the one hand through the song “Magic of Home” from the Langnese advertisement. On the other hand, through your appearance on “Voice of Germany”. How did you develop this singing voice?
Simmons: I’ve been singing all my life. Literally! My first public appearance was at church when I was four years old. Singing has always been a very strong part of my life: my father is a musician. So I’ve always sung, but it wasn’t until later that I discovered music as a career. It always fascinates me how you can move so many people with your own voice! Music is my mother tongue!
Bénet Monteiro, until recently you played one of the main roles in the Disney musical Frozen. At the same time you have also acted in other musicals such as “Mamma Mia!” or “The Lion King”. How did you develop your singing voice?
Monteiro: I started singing in church. At the age of 21 I started a musical education. But only for about six months because my first job came up very quickly. Then it all started! I continue to take singing lessons to further develop my voice. But with Hamilton I actually have to rap more.
Can you both reveal the secret behind your voices for our readers? How can you learn something like that?
Monteiro: If you want to sing, you should find a teacher and just practice! There are many different exercises, such as the right warm-up. And you should also find out what your own style is. Once you’ve figured out what your personal style is and what kind of voice you have, you can start developing!
Simmons: I think anyone can sing. The only question then is how good. Music is very subjective. What I find good, others may not find so great. But everyone has the ability to sing. Music is ultimately telling and listening. Not everyone can sing like a Beyoncé and become a pop star. But if you really want to, you can learn a lot with your voice! Then the few technical things are very easy to train. I think the most important tip is: Just be realistic! In other words, if you think a song is cool on the radio, it doesn’t automatically sound cool when you sing it yourself. However, you should also be prepared to jump over your own shadow. Singing is about passion!
Do you have stage fright at such a performance?
Monteiro: Yes, of course! I would say I get stage fright every day before I go on stage.
Simmons: I haven’t had stage fright in years. It’s because I’ve played so many times. Before I got into musicals, I was a live musician with 120 to 150 performances a year. And has been for about twenty years. That’s actually amazing, because I’m actually a rather shy person by nature. Accordingly, at the very beginning of my career, I naturally had constant stage fright. There is a saying in English: “If you are not scared, you don’t care!” So: What doesn’t scare you, you don’t take that seriously! I’ve always made myself aware of this in order to jump over my shadow! Experience came over the years and stage fright went away.
Did you get the stage fright under control or did it just go away with the experience?
Simmons: It’s gone partly through experience. But I also developed some rituals. For example, I always do something physical: I do push-ups, jumping jacks, or jump rope for ten minutes. Anything physical gets the blood flowing through the body! I’m a fitness trainer in my second job and I know how important it is to warm up the body before exercising. It’s basically the same with singing!
What tips would you give our readers for dealing with stage fright?
Monteiro: You have to see stage fright as a friend! I’ve been trying to get rid of stage fright for a long time and that’s the worst thing you can do. Just accept the stage fright and then it’s no longer a problem! When you are presenting or on stage, there are very strong emotions involved. This is where nervousness can help you function. It’s something you can take advantage of!
Simmons: I think a very important tip is to remember that it’s your choice whether you perform and you kind of go on stage. Once you’ve made your decision to go on stage, you should stand by that choice! Only then can you find the courage to just do it. I always tell my singing students that they sing because they want to. Not because they have to. Consciously standing behind this decision makes it much easier. Try to stay calm and slow your breathing a bit. In addition, there are a few physical tricks you can use. For example: When I go on stage, I never look people straight in the eye. I always look at a point above the forehead or at the head. I’ll focus on that point then. That helps immensely!