‘Her legacy, too’
Alysha Deslorieux, who plays Eliza, the wife of Alexander Hamilton, talks with the STAR about her role in the hit musical that returns to Puerto Rico next week
By Jannette Rivera Melecio
Special to The Star
The multi-award-winning musical “Hamilton,” created by Puerto Rican playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, returns to the local stage with more than a dozen shows from June 13 to June 25 at Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center (Centro de Bellas Artes) in Santurce.
After the production’s resounding success on Broadway and 23 performances on the island in 2019, another group of actors, called the “Angelica cast,” arrives to electrify the San Juan venue with its spectacular staging, choreography and performance.
For actress Alysha Deslorieux, the local run that begins next Tuesday represents a new opportunity to return to the island.
“I’m really excited,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s one of the parts of this tour that I’m looking forward to the most, actually. I’ve been to Puerto Rico a few times and I absolutely love it.”
Deslorieux, who plays Eliza, the wife of Alexander Hamilton, has taken time on her previous visits to teach theater classes to young people with an interest in the performing arts.
“My boyfriend and I are teaching some camps while we’re there as well, so we’re going to get the opportunity to do some musical theater with students. They’re super talented. I had the opportunity to watch their performance at the end of the camp last year. I’m really looking forward to that as well.”
During media interviews with several members of the musical cast, some acknowledged that they were unaware of the figure of Hamilton. The 30-year-old African American actress, whose father was an immigrant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Maarten, said she was unaware of many details, but learning about the historical figure in depth gave meaning to parts of her own life.
“I definitely thought I knew more and this was before I was in the original company. So when I first got this appointment to audition back in, I think it was 2015, maybe 2014, I didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton other than that he was on the $10 bill” Deslorieux said. “I had no idea he was from the Caribbean, which is where my family is from. I learned a lot very quickly about him and all of the founding fathers. Then it sort of started filling in a lot of blanks for me from, you know, like in the U.S. history that I learned as a kid.”
The musical boldly brings together the interpretation of historical figures, mostly white, in the skin of Latino, African-American, Filipino and other ethnicities. This element has been applauded for its genius in telling the story. For Deslorieux, this also provides a real perspective on those who founded the North American nation.
“I think that that’s one of the most important ways that the story is told, because it reminds us of who these people were that sort of founded our country,” she said. “These were the founding fathers. To quote the show: ‘young, scrappy and hungry dudes.’ They were young and they were rough around the edges. They’re immigrants. And I think the reason that it’s so important to have people of color telling the story is because we are the sons and daughters of immigrants to this country. […] So it’s nice to have this story, even though it’s about white people, told through the eyes of people of color.”
Deslorieux has successfully played the three Schuyler sisters (Angelica, Peggy and Eliza). However, her preference has leaned toward a fusion between Angelica and Eliza.
“My favorite is somewhere between Eliza and Angelica because Eliza gets to have a whole character arc. She … shows up and she’s very young …, and then she goes through this entire arc of how her life changes and develops … all the way up until she dies. She gets to sort of express what she’s done with her life in regard to Alex’s life,” Deslorieux said. “But Angelica really capitalizes on the love between the two sisters. And I think that that’s a really lovely part of the story. It’s one of my favorite parts of it. And she also gets to sing really great music. So it’s really fun to do both of them. Eliza is more of a whole entire character arc, and Angelica is more of a … she pops in and out … but her presence is so strong when she’s on stage. So I think they both are really interesting. It’s hard to decide.”
The character changes that the actress has forged in the skin of the sisters have allowed her to know the dimensions of love beyond relationships, marriage and family.
“It’s kind of the thing that I’ve learned playing Eliza is more about resilience and grace. And as far as between the sisters, I feel like that kind of love is so special. And it really is,” Deslorieux said. “This story ends up sort of defining how Angelica’s life goes and how Eliza’s life goes. Because the love between the sisters is so strong that … Angelica sort of forgoes her feelings for Alexander and allows her sister to find happiness. And I think that that’s a huge sacrifice. And my favorite parts, my favorite moments on stage are always with Stephanie Umoh, who plays Angelica, my sister. It’s my favorite part of the show.”
The character of Eliza, or Betsey, has received praise from critics and commentators for emphasizing the importance of her role in the life of her husband, a founding father of the United States, and in spreading his legacy. In addition, the character extends a humanistic perspective on the relationship between the two due to socioeconomic differences.
“They came from very, very different backgrounds. I think because Eliza had the luxury of not having to marry a rich man, she was able to sort of actually develop a relationship with someone purely out of love,” Deslorieux said. “And I think that he was such a charming, you know, fascinating person who sort of worked his way up from the bottom that she was able to actually get to know him and fall in love with him and have a family with him. They had several kids.”
Hamilton and Eliza married in 1780 and had eight children. Deslorieux adds that the couple was able to overcome adversity and establish a special bond.
“I think despite the obvious tragedies that happened within their marriage and their lives, I think it started out sort of just like a fever dream for both of them … for him to get married outside of what he thought was possible for him and for her to just be able to explore an actual human connection with someone,” she said.
Deslorieux shares an interesting theory that one of her castmates presented to her recently, that because the musical is called “Hamilton” and not “Alexander Hamilton,” it can be interpreted that Eliza is the main reason for his legacy being carried on, and the title “Hamilton” also includes Eliza Hamilton or even the Hamiltons (his children), who carried on his legacy after him.
“Because Hamilton is a show about legacy, about what you leave behind, ‘who lives, who dies, who tells your story,’ I think that is Eliza -- the orphanage, the Washington monument, the fight against slavery, all things she did in their family’s name,” Deslorieux said. “It was her choice to fulfill his dream of being remembered, of having a legacy, and that makes it her legacy, too. It really changed my perspective on her importance in this show, in her life, and in history. So now, when I think of ‘Hamilton’ the show, I think of any Hamilton that ever existed, not just Alexander, but of anyone who carried on the legacy of Hamilton. And it fills me with pride to think that also means Eliza Hamilton.”
About the musical:
“Hamilton” portrays the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers and first secretary of the Treasury when the new nation was formed. Inspired by Ron Chernow’s acclaimed biography -- the musical also blends drama, romance, comedy and tragedy to tell the life of a character, of a country. For tickets, access Ticketera (www.ticketera.com), Centro de Bellas Artes de Santurce or by calling 787-305-3600.