Actress-singer Renée Elise Goldsberry prepares to work-work with the Pops
One might think that the woman who originated the role of Angelica Schuyler in the pop cultural phenomenon Hamilton (for which she received both a Tony and Grammy Award), played the titular role opposite Oprah Winfrey in HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or even famously performed the last (and somewhat also immortal thanks to being recorded on film) Mimi in Rent might be a total diva (and deservedly so), but star Renée Elise Goldsberry proves to be anything but. Both humble and unassuming, the mother of two took a few moments out of her busy schedule to talk about her upcoming performances June 12-14 with special guest Phillipa Soo (the original Eliza Schuyler Hamilton of Hamilton), famed conductor Keith Lockhart, and the beloved Boston Pops.
What’s it mean for you to be performing with the Pops?
It’s a dream come true. I’m such a fan, and it’s a huge honor to sing with them … a reward, almost. That is, after having been a part of so many musical projects that suit them. Keith Lockhart and I both attended Carnegie Mellon together, so it’s a thrill to reunite with him. And as if that weren’t enough, I get to perform again with my wonderful friend, Phillipa Soo, my dear Pip, as I call her.
Is this the first time you’ll be doing something together since Hamilton?
It is, actually. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to be onstage with her again. I’ve been excitedly going around telling people that I’m doing “the Pops with Pip!” and probably getting a little too much joy from just saying the words. I also like to joke that I won a Tony Award for just looking at and naturally loving her onstage. She’s a real treasure.
What can fans hope to see either of you perform with the Pops?
We’ll be doing songs from Rent, The Lion King, Carousel, Carmen Jones, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 … and of course “Burn” and “Satisfied” from Hamilton.
You seem to have had quite a satisfying and diverse career thus far: from soaps to Broadway, songwriting to the silver screen—has this been a product of saying “yes” to everything? Or maybe a conscious decision to try and keep it interesting for yourself?
As far as the diversity of it, that’s just the grace of God at work. I definitely don’t say “yes” to everything. Right now, my life feels like the year of “no” what with two small children and a husband. Maintaining a healthy personal and professional balance is hugely important to me. My kids are only young once, and they don’t care what show you’re in at the moment. They just hope that you pick them up from school and put them to bed. That you perform the role of mother well. That said, I do try to say “yes” to things that they would, looking back someday, be proud to say their mom had been a part of. Playing with the Boston Pops is one of those things.
Have you always had that mindset? Or is this a recent development due to motherhood?
If I’m being completely honest, while I try to be very particular about the projects I pursue, I have in the past tried not to say “no” to things frankly because I can’t believe that someone would be asking me to do something in the first place. You see, I’m always the first to be like, “Oh, I can probably maybe pull it off, but the person who you really want for this should be…” and then I’ll recommend someone I respect and admire instead.
It sounds like you’re incredibly humble in that regard.
I’d like to think so. In any case, I always have to talk myself out of it and remember that I have the training, that I work hard, that I try to bring a really good attitude to the table, and that they’ve invited me to be a part of something because they want me to succeed. You have to trust those friendships and partnerships. And the grace of God will make it work. That mantra hasn’t let me down yet. If anything, I think my career should be a testament to how some people are just freakishly successful. I genuinely hope that others look at it and say, “Well, if she did it, then I can, too.”
What advice might you give to working mothers, especially those in your profession?
The phrase I use for that is, “The juggle is real.” And I don’t know that you can do it without constantly questioning if you’ve made the right choices or if you’re making the right choices. While we all question ourselves, I do believe that the opportunities that come to us are really for our children, you know? The things that happen to us really shape the trajectory of their lives and their experiences. Mommy might not always be there every minute of the day, but hopefully those absences allow for some really exciting things the whole family can enjoy, benefit from, and maybe also take part in because mommy was away doing what she did. That thought helps me. Relationships with other women that are both working and not working are extremely helpful, too. Thanks to the women who are working, I can say to my children, “See? Her mommy isn’t there all the time either, and that’s okay.” Plus, other working moms and I can look at each other and relate to each other in that way as working women. And the women who “aren’t” working—and I do want to stress that they are still working as full-time moms—can prove incredibly helpful in bridging those gaps from such absence. We can depend on each other as moms, as a community.
As the saying goes, it takes a village.
Exactly. And I should add that it’s not just working moms. … It’s really working parents these days for many. We’re all just working to survive and support our loved ones.
Speaking of (work-)working, what’s it like for you now post-Hamilton? Has your life normalized somewhat yet or is it still pretty surreal?
I’m always surprised when I’m in the world and I get so much love from so many different groups of people, and I’m surprised because I just feel like a regular person in the world who also just happened to have the best job in the world. To be a part of this amazing thing … I mean, you can’t exhaust me at all talking about how wonderful Hamilton is and has been to me. I keep waiting for it to end, assuming that it’s a wave that passes, but I’m still stopped for pictures, still asked to be a part of the conversations surrounding it, still receiving thanks and praise. In my heart I hope it remains relevant. There’s so much in it that’s beautiful and valuable and that can speak to so many different kinds of people. I do really hope that there are constantly new generations of people who discover it. I do pray that will happen.
In talking to you, it sounds like you gain a lot of strength from your faith.
When you’re out here, it takes a tremendous amount of faith. I don’t know if there’s any career where you’re as deep in the waters as this one. Pursuing it, you might drown, but you might also catch the biggest fish. I definitely have an awesome testimony of just being blessed and sometimes I have to pinch myself in response to my good fortune. In the end, though, I know who to thank for it all.
I kid, I kid. What are you looking forward to most about these upcoming performances in Boston?
I’m excited to enjoy. I’m excited to be there. I feel like we’re about to have a party.
Well, how lucky we are, Renée.
Thank you! Very much indeed!
THE BOSTON POPS. 6.12–6.14. SYMPHONY HALL, BOSTON. BSO.ORG