“Hamilton.” Have you heard of it? Oh, no? Well, it’s this musical on Broadway that fuses hip-hop with the life story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton ― and it’s pretty darn amazing. The show has not only gained critical acclaim, but box-office sales are through the roof (hence why you CAN’T get a ticket).
The news as of late hasn’t been about the show itself, though. The departures of original cast members, including creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), Phillippa Soo (Eliza Schuyler Hamilton) and Daveed Diggs (Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), shook the Earth to its very core. Fans who got the chance to listen to the soundtrack 9,000 times and have yet to actually see the show were distraught. What comes next? Who tells their stories? Will we ever be satisfied?
Fear not, because the new Hamilton ― aka “Sexy Hamilton,” “Javilton,” etc. ― is bringing a different vibe to the role and keeping the show’s momentum going. Meet Lin’s right-hand man, Javier Muñoz, everybody.
Muñoz has been a part of the “Hamilton” team as Miranda’s alternate since the show debuted at the Public Theater in February 2015. Born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the 40-year-old ― who was Miranda’s alternate for the musical “In the Heights,” as well ― starred in the Sunday performances of “Hamilton” on Broadway and took over whenever Miranda needed to be elsewhere. Muñoz actually performed for President Obama last summer while Miranda watched the show as an audience member. He also headed the stage the night Beyoncé and Jay Z sat in the crowd.
So, yes, Lin has moved on, but Javilton is here to blow us all away ― one rap at a time. Muñoz is an openly gay, HIV-positive cancer survivor. He’s a caring and compassionate human who has faced many battles in his life. After a two-month break to receive cancer treatment last fall, Muñoz returned to the production stronger than ever earlier this year and brought with him a little bit of inspiration. He planted a garden on the roof of the Richard Rodgers Theatre ― the room where it happens ― because, as he told The New York Times, “I needed something there that felt still and calm ... it may sound cheesy or corny, but it’s really not. The fact that life is created in that little garden bed heals me. It just does.”
Muñoz’s energy, personality, drive and charisma shine from the inside out. The Huffington Post got the chance to sit down with Muñoz for an interview, and there’s no doubt in our minds that he can fulfill the large task of playing Alexander Hamilton, day in and day out.
Below, our Q&A with Javier Muñoz:
Your first role was a guard in “The King and I” …
[Laughs] Well, to be really specific, my first role was the King of the Lions in “Free to Be ... You and Me” in first grade.
Ah, that’s when the theater bug really hit you.
Yes, that’s when I really knew. [Laughs]
But can you maybe go back to your first starring role ― with your first line or first solo?
It was a student-written production in high school. Edward R. Murrow [High School, in Brooklyn] had this competition where seniors and freshman wrote a play, juniors and sophomores wrote a play, and competed for best play and it was called “SING!” So, my freshman year “SING!” ― it was sort of these two cliques that were at odds with each other. I had this ridiculous bit in the opening number and I forgot my line so I started to improv but I went too long and the music kept going and it was a disaster. My mom, that night, said, “You know, you really didn’t do that really well!” [laughs] And I was like, “Mom!” So yeah, that’s how that went.
So when you think back on that now, when you’re playing the most coveted role on Broadway, what do you think?
Tommy Kail, our director, made a wonderful effort, a successful effort, to keep the work our focus and keep any hype and any media and anything that was being said about the show out of the room. And we were all about making sure the show itself was absolutely its best that it could be and that we were giving everything that we could to it. Walking into that room the first day, it was everyone’s A-plus game, so there was no room to slack. When that kind of energy is being generated daily, you rise to the occasion, so it becomes about the work and it’s not about what magazine is covering what or who’s saying what, it’s about the piece. And with that foundation, it’s just carried us through. So really, I know what you’re saying is the feeling about “Hamilton” and what “Hamilton” sort of permeates, but to me, it’s just the work. I go in and I do my job and that’s what I’m there to do. And I love it. So, that’s what the focus is and that’s where the energy goes.
Let’s talk about theater nightmares. Have you ever had one?
Just one? [Laughs]
Do you have a recurring one that you think, “Why do I keep having this same nightmare?”
With “Hamilton,” my current one is I forget a line, because there’s no fixing that. And it happened yesterday during the evening show. We were doing “My Shot,” and there were two points where I was so exhausted my brain was like, “You want to sleep,” and literally in the middle of a rap, I’m like, “Uhhhh.” And I kept going because you got to jump right back in ― it’s a hot second but it feels like a truck drove by, you know? That’s absolutely my nightmare and it happens every now and then, but that’s the nature of the beast.
What are your warmups like? I heard you don’t sing before so you can save every ounce of your voice for the show, but do you work out or anything?
Oh, absolutely. I’ll always hit the gym or do some sort of workout at home before the start of my day because that sort of just puts everything in alignment. As for approaching the actual show itself, 100 jumping jacks — it gets the adrenaline going and it gets the breath connected really deep. And then just something to make me sweat, whether it’s pushups or some sort of exercise that’s going to work up a little bit of a sweat on top of the jumping jacks. Then jaw stretches, making sure this all feels nice and pliable, and then I do steam. Then there’s a very precise vocal warmup that hits my plosives, hits my vowels, just making sure the sound is coming forward, and that’s it. That’s all I need — just to know everything’s functioning and percolating and then I’m ready to do the show.
And do you have any rituals before the show?
I don’t, actually. With “In the Heights” I had so many because I was so daunted by it. But the thing about being in the room to help build this show is there were so many times that I didn’t even know I was going to be called upon to do the run-through that day. At a moment’s notice, Lin might need to watch, so I was always ready. There was no time to be scared. It was like, “Jav, we need you to do the thing.” And I was like, “OK! Here we go.” And because of that, and knowing I could successfully get through the show without any sort of prep or focus time or anything, now it’s just like, once I’m warmed and ready, let’s do it.
I haven’t seen the show — well, a lot of people haven’t seen the show. Do you have any wild experience with tickets where someone, a friend maybe, has come up and asked you to get them into the show?
I do. She might read this, and I feel a little bad about it, but it was really the only time I felt so uncomfortable about it! I had just gotten off the plane ― I had flown out to Oregon to visit my friends at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A stage manager friend was picking me up and there was a woman there with her daughter who saw the stage manager, they were friends, and saw me speaking with her and so she immediately comes to me and wants to talk about “Hamilton.” I’m literally 10 minutes off the plane, it’s my first vacation in two years and she hits me up for tickets. I don’t even know who she is and it’s a whole bombardment, and for a hot second I’m speechless and then I said to her, “I’m so sorry, I’m on vacation, I’m 10 minutes off the plane and I really feel bombarded. Can we work this out later somehow with Jill [the stage manager]?” I normally would be really gracious about it, but I really was so shut off from the show and I wanted the distance. It was so the most unexpected thing because I felt like I was going to Oregon and I was so far removed from New York and Broadway, that like, who would recognize me here? Nobody! And then 10 minutes off the plane, it’s like, “Hamilton! Yadda, yadda, ya!” And so, yeah, it was a little daunting.
How overwhelming does the fandom get for you? I’m sure you appreciate it very much, but there have to be moments when you kind of want to turn it off.
I don’t know. It’s not too much, it’s just whether or not I have the energy in the moment to engage because our schedule is so rigorous and the show’s got to come first. My voice has to rest, my body has to rest, so whatever I need has to come first for my execution of the show and if I have the energy and time to engage with fans, that’s great! I will! And if I don’t, I gotta go home or I gotta get into the theater or I gotta just be in the zone that I need to be in. So its not really daunting at all, it’s sort of wonderful that there are so many people who are connected to the show and get inspired by the show and if they can’t get the ticket, just want to be at the stage door to see you, that’s really beautiful. So if I can engage, I try.
It’s wonderful to have your moment and watch someone else have their moment, because the opportunity is so broad. And I hope it keeps growing that way. Javier Muñoz on diversity
There’s some new cast members now, so how’s the vibe going? It’s probably spicing up the show a bit, I mean, “Sexy Hamilton” right here!
Lord, have mercy! [laughs] But, this is the thing we know no matter what: this creative team and producers are so invested in the show itself that no one who is cast can be second-guessed. We all know that anyone who’s walking into that building as a new cast member has gone through the most rigorous process and that they picked the right person for the job. You just know that. It’s evident in the first initial group that we were off-Broadway with, it was evident in the new people who came in when the cast expanded and we transferred to Broadway ― it was perfect fits, and so you just know. We all have that confidence that whoever is walking in that building, they belong here. And it’s about discovering the new relationships and what they are and the new energies and how we all interact.
Can you talk a little bit about how “Hamilton” has opened a door for diversity? The fact that Hamilton can be played by any race, any gender – what’s it like being a part of a show like this?
It’s about time. I think your audience will always tell you what they want and, clearly, it’s not affecting our ticket sales. It’s not like people don’t want to see “Hamilton.” I think audiences have been ready for a long time with diversity and what they see in their entertainment, all across the board with film, TV or theater. And so, I think it’s fantastic that there’s enough opportunity to go around. It’s wonderful to have your moment and watch someone else have their moment, because the opportunity is so broad. And I hope it keeps growing that way.
What’s a lyric or song that’s your favorite ― either to perform or it may be the trickiest ― and every time it comes up, you’re like, “Oh, I’m so psyched.”
It’s a small little part in “Right Hand Man” when Hamilton and Mulligan make that diagonal cross across the stage in the middle of Washington and his army — “They’re battering down the battery, check the damages” — that whole little thing. That whole thing, if I may say, is badass! It’s so good. You just can’t help but not sit in the pocket and feel really cool.
I can’t wait until you start Rap 101, because I’ll be in that class!
[Laughs] Right! I will do it!
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