By Kristen Montag
The biggest show in the world has finally landed in Minneapolis. #HamiltonMSP is the most anticipated musical ever to play the Orpheum stage, as ticket sales and local hype prove. And this show is for real -- it's just as good as you heard and worth every expensive "Abe Lincoln." (Some lucky folks will see it for one "Ham" each performance - see More Info below.) Care is taken to ensure audiences on this #PhillipTour (or #HamiltourToo) get the same experience as audiences in NYC and Chicago. Part of that is the extremely talented cast. Every member is integral to the telling of the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
One of those people is ensemble member Conroe Brooks. Brooks also understudies both George Washington and King George. He took a little time to provide some insight to Minneapolis fans about being a part of this unprecedented show in this exclusive interview that confirms all my suspicions. Being in HAMILTON is the best job ever. Landing in Minneapolis for six weeks is the Cherry (& Spoonbridge) on top.
First, can you talk about how you were cast in HAMILTON (Phillip Tour Company) and/or how you first got involved with the show?
I submitted a self-tape of myself singing and rapping to an open casting email. Never thought anything would ever come of it. But a couple months later a got a reply to send a tape doing a couple songs from the show. About 12 auditions over almost two years later I got the call that I was cast.
How long did you rehearse with the cast for the tour before hitting the road? Did you work with the Cabinet (of course, I mean Lin, Tommy, Andy and Alex) to learn the show?
We rehearsed for about seven weeks in NYC. The Cabinet would come in from time to time to see the progress, give notes and mostly inspire us with how grateful they were for us as a whole new cast learning this show from scratch.
It looks like your background is more in television (from your bio - readers, see below); have you done stage work before?
I started doing theater in junior high and throughout high school. But I haven't done a musical in over 10 years. So this was a big and scary leap to be cast in the biggest show in the world. To be honest, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to do it and remember all the harmonies, choreography, or that my voice would last for eight shows a week. But it all worked out and I'm having the time of my life. Definitely feel like I belong on the stage.
You've obviously learned three parts for this show; how long do you usually have before you have to go on as one of the main characters you understudy? Have you played both parts on this tour, and in Minneapolis at all?
Sometimes we only find out the day of that we're going up. So you always gotta be ready. I have played both parts several times already. I haven't done either here in Minneapolis yet, but I will be playing King George next week (Sept 24-29) because our King will be on vacation.
What has been your biggest challenge and your favorite part of being in Hamilton?
My biggest challenge has been navigating my emotions with the loss of my mom in the middle of all this. I lost her pretty suddenly to brain cancer toward the beginning of the audition process. So unfortunately she never got to see on stage. That's really really hard. I struggle with that every single day. I sometimes get hit with emotion in the middle of a show. Luckily this show is full of passion so I'm sometimes able to manage it in a way that works for what I'm doing in the scene. But ultimately, her loss keeps me grateful for what I have, the beautiful people around me, and especially my dad and my sister. My favorite part about being in Hamilton is seeing how it's changing peoples' lives. We hear that every time at the stage door and it never gets old.
What is your favorite scene in the show?
As ensemble, my favorite scene is "Yorktown." We all get so hype at that part and it's just so moving. As GW, it's "One Last Time." That song is incredible and to get to act out that time in history is incredible.
Is being in HAMILTON as big of an acting workout as it seems? The ensemble all seems to be on stage and moving constantly -- are you worn out by the end each night?
Yes!!! We definitely have to take care of our bodies to be able to do this show. We also have a wonderful physical therapist that travels with us. We would fall apart without her.
As we're the Minneapolis section of BroadwayWorld, and I've seen that you've been getting out and having a good time in our city, I have to ask: have you ever been to Minneapolis before, and what's your impression been? What have you done that you especially enjoyed?
I never been to Minneapolis and I have clearly been missing out. I love it here. The people are friendly, great food, beautiful scenery. And I, of course, love my visit to Paisley Park. I'm a big Prince fan.
You are doing an Instagram takeover for Meet Minneapolis (BTW, I work there and for BroadwayWorld) - first, thanks! Second - any plans for that day (9/18/18 -- catch his Instagram story from @MeetMinneapolis here*)? Do you enjoy getting to know the cities you're touring in? Planning to go to the sculpture park and Cov restaurant that a friend said I must hit up. One of my favorite things about being on tour is getting to know a little bit about each city. It's such a gift.
How have you been received by Minneapolis audiences? I think I saw you and a couple cast mates mention the opening night audience was "lit" -- has the reception surprised you, energized you or been what you're used to?
I have been surprised by how awesome the audiences have been here. We can see that they are really loving the show. The audiences are usually always great, but here I think we're a bit closer than other theaters and we can really feel their energy.
Back to the show, what is one thing you'd recommend to anyone who has not seen the show before to pay attention to as they see it for the first time?
Listen to the soundtrack and get familiar with it. And maybe read a little synopsis on the story. The words come at you a mile a minute and it's nonstop. There is a lot going on visually so being somewhat familiar with the songs is helpful. It won't spoil anything for you by listening to the soundtrack.
It seems like you and the other cast members are just having the time of your lives on stage and what you show the world on social media. Is being in HAMILTON the best gig ever?
YES!!! And the cast is the best ever. That's what makes it the best gig ever. We're very lucky to have great people in this cast. And we're all grateful to be doing this incredible, life-changing show.
What's something that fans of the show would never guess about what's going on backstage?
We are quite silly backstage sometimes because we're enjoying ourselves so much. But as soon as we hit the stage we click back in.
Finally, is there anything else you'd like to share with your Minneapolis fans?
I'd just love to thank the Minneapolis fans for welcoming us with such love.
Tickets are still available via Ticketmaster - get more information and purchase tickets through https://hennepintheatretrust.org/events/hamilton-broadway-tickets-orpheum-theatre-minneapolis-mn-2018/.
Additionally, if you download the Hamilton App, you can enter the official Lottery and potentially win one or a pair of 40 tickets sold for $10 each performance.
*Brooks took over @MeetMinneapolis' Instagram story for Sept. 18; it will be available through Oct. 7, but he shared behind the scenes action during the show as well as a time with his cast friends in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Follow him at @ConroeBrooks on Instagram and Twitter.
Conroe Brooks Bio:
Making his National Tour debut! TV: "Sons of Anarchy," "Ray Donovan," "Heroes," "24," "The Unit," "Graceland," and "Jane the Virgin." Dedicates this tour in memory of his mother.
Photo: Conroe Brooks, courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust.