Hamilton as we’ve known it is over. Its star and creator (and composer and lyricist) Lin-Manuel Miranda ended his run as Alexander Hamilton on July 9th. In his place, rising up from the ranks of Sunday alternate, is Javier Muñoz, who similarly took over for Miranda after he left Broadway’s In the Heights.
The show’s on-stage story is all about transitioning through chaos and ending up on higher ground. Just look at songs like “One Last Time” or “What Comes Next.” But Hamilton fans are especially fervent, and the stakes for the show’s longevity are high. As The Onion joked about Muñoz, “There’s no way this man I’m totally unfamiliar with can live up to a man I first heard of six months ago.”
That quip made Muñoz laugh. But it’s actually a pivotal moment for a play that has so many accolades thrown at it. Plus, as Muñoz recently discussed, he has been HIV-positive since 2002 and so is bringing another layer to one of the United States’ forefathers. We caught up with him to ask what makes him tick as he debuts Hamilton 2.0 and that signature cocktail named in his honor.
You’re going from one performance a week to seven. You had previously described the old schedule warmly as a rev up and release. How does the new schedule affect your creative process? Your creative metabolism? Your creative energy?
Well, first, saying goodbye to Lin isn’t just about the actor who originated the role, or the creator, or lyricist, or composer or actual genius. Of course he’s all of those things but he’s also my buddy. But I’m grateful to extend the role we also built up for me. I’m just sort of extending what I was already doing. One show a week is actively hard. It’s hard to make adjustments about character discoveries or relationship discoveries when you have to keep those thoughts in the forefront of your mind all week. Now I can incorporate those thoughts the very next day, or even later that day. I can pace day to day a lot better, a lot easier. And it’s an opportunity to build upon these very rare, very special working relationships within the family of the cast. I find it to be an honor, really.
I ask about your energy because, of course, this season you battled cancer. Was this new schedule something you had to consult your doctor about?
I’m a person who is very focused on my health anyway. So those considerations are always in my mind. But I’m cancer-free now and strong and resilient again. Any survivor will tell you that your thoughts have to focus on your life, not the illness. And luckily for me, my life is full of awareness about my health because I have all these little routines and rituals, like a set bedtime.
What’s your bedtime?
Does that mean you’re staring at the ceiling until 2?
No way! That’s what melatonin is for!
When you were performing just on Sundays, the New York Times declared Hamilton is “sexy on Sundays” because of you – and I swear, we’re at the point where Google autofills “Javier Muñoz” as “Javier Muñoz sexy”– but there was this idea that the show, the experience, was very different on Sundays. Do you plan to just keep on doing what you were doing Sundays, or is there any active reimagining? You and Lin are both so high-energy but I think of you as more centered and mellow, and Lin as more frenetic and whimsical.
I have to marry our two energies. And that enormous task has been helped so much by Lin and I really creating this character together, tagging in on our thoughts and feelings about why this and why that. There’s an unwritten responsibility. It’s your job not to derail the show, to maintain what the other actors have developed. As for the whole sexy thing, which is just silly fun, there are worse things to be known for.
And there’s Javilton, which isn’t just Lin’s nickname for your take on the role, but is a bonafide hashtag-y trendy thing. My favorite manifestation is the Javilton Sun-Rides cocktail at Blue Dog in Hell’s Kitchen, a few blocks from the theater.
Yes! You know about that? Word is getting around! It’s a pineapple tequila sunrise with blood orange. It’s so smooth, which I shouldn’t say because it sounds like I’m saying it about myself, but it’s true. It’s easy to drink. A little too easy, if you will. Again, not talking about myself. [Laughs]
While the title role is Alexander Hamilton, arguably the lead role is Aaron Burr. And, on top of saying goodbye to Lin, who’s like a brother to you, it was also the final performance of Leslie Odom Jr. as Burr. He organized two meals a day to be sent to your home when you were taking weeks off work to deal with cancer. What was it like saying goodbye to someone who forged that kind of bond with you?
Oh, Leslie! Just wow with that guy. At our final performance together, afterwards, backstage, we were still both in costume, and I just took him aside and said the only thing I could say: “Thank you. Thank you for making me a better person.”
Leslie was part of that historic Tony Awards night where the top four acting awards for musicals went to black actors — three of whom were Hamilton wins. So much has been said about what Hamilton means for race and for women and for all these sidelined cultures, this otherness. But I’m curious: Have you ever felt revolutionary in this show not just as a Latino man, but also as a gay man?
The amazing power of this show is that it’s not just a history lesson; it’s a lesson in empathy. It’s a lesson in sharing experience. Whether the opportunities that present themselves for me are about sharing my ethnicity, sharing my sexuality, or sharing my health issues, it’s been a humbling reminder that there is so much more that we can share about ourselves, and there is such power in that moment of connection. I’m immensely proud of the hope and encouragement I can offer audiences or fans merely by my existence. I am proof that it’s not impossible.
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