Millions of people have watched the hit Broadway musical Hamilton since it was released on Disney+ in early July.
For Christopher Jackson, the experience was a little different.
Jackson, who played George Washington in the 2016 Tony-winning production, hadn’t ever seen himself, or the rest of the original cast, perform the groundbreaking musical, which tells the story of the founding of the United States using hip-hop music and tropes as well as performers of color in all the major roles.
When he heard the opening chords to “Right Hand Man,” Washington’s first number in the show, his reaction was physical.
“Instantly my face started contorting and I started sweating. It was a very very very strange thing,” he said in a media call Tuesday. “And (my wife) just kind of taps me on the knee. She’s like, ‘Honey, you’re not doing the show. Relax.’ But you have this almost Pavlovian response any time I hear that (singing), I have a reaction to it. And that just comes from doing something for years and years and years, and working on something and having the emotional architecture that’s still buried somewhere in the back of my brain.”
That almost primal urge to perform has been eating at Jackson during the pandemic, as performing arts have ground to a halt.
“I’ve been itching, like so many others, to get on stage,” he said.
And he’ll be able to get back on stage this weekend as part of the “Live from the West Side” series. He’ll perform at the New World Stages in New York with a live band, and a virtual audience — the performance will be streamed live online, with tickets available through 17 nonprofit performing arts centers across the country, including Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts.
Jackson said the set will include some Hamilton, some In the Heights, some other Broadway, and some Harry Belefonte, too.
“I’ve read his memoir now one and a half times throughout this whole quarantine. Really been spending a lot of time with his music. Really been spending a lot of time understanding why he chose the songs that he chose,” he said.
Tickets are $40 per household and available at overture.org. Proceeds benefit Overture Center and its community arts programs. Admission includes the live stream and on-demand viewing for 72 hours afterward.
Jackson said benefitting the arts centers is key to why he wanted to do the show.
“There’s no end to the number of benefits that a performing arts center has for the community and for the people that participate in what they’re doing, be it subscribers or children who are engaged in their seasonal productions. It just goes so far,” he said. “The idea of being able to support them is really really important. It’s not hard to see how valuable those centers are. And it’s not hard to see the impact that they have. I work with fellow actors that came up in a ballet program or a young actors program, or a young writers program. So I’ve witnessed up close and personal the impact that some of these programs have. And whether any of these kids stay with this as a career or not, the intrinsic value that they have in the experience of learning themselves through this new art is foundational. It stays with them forever.”
Jackson said the pandemic has made life hard on everyone, but finding a way to connect people with the arts is important.
“As a performer I’m in no different circumstances than any other person walking this earth,” he said. “As I was trying on a wardrobe for this concert, I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I haven’t put on real clothes in like six months.’”
He also said as a Black performer, he’s aware of the other defining theme of the current moment — the surge in the Black Lives Matter movement — and thinks the two are related.
“I don’t think that we would be at a Black Lives Matter moment if we didn’t have the country’s rapt attention. The world’s rapt attention,” he said. “I think that our society is taking a really interesting step right now. My hope is that it just continues. But as a black man, I’m quite surprised that the response to the things that have been talked about for decades have finally seen a different kind of reception and in a different moment. And as an artist, I’m super inspired by that. And I’m hopeful, and I’m tired, and I’m angry and I’m hopeful. This whole range of emotions seems to be going on, but normally we have different places and different circumstances to express that. But now it’s just in my crib. Now it’s home.”
The concert will stream live at 7 pm Central time on Saturday.