Yana Perrault on the work and wonder of ‘Hamilton’

(Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy “Hamilton” National Tour)

It may be billed as an American musical, but “Hamilton” has taken the entire world by storm. The cultural phenomenon premiered Off-Broadway in 2015 and hasn’t stopped finding new audiences since.

“A story of America then told by America now,” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blend of hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap and R&B reintroduces Founding Father Alexander Hamilton through a modern lens. The show even made history of its own in 2016 with a record 16 Tony Award nominations.

“Hamilton” secured 11 wins, including Best Book, Best Musical and Best Original Score, but the accolades didn’t stop there. It won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Drama, its original cast won the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album and it received an unprecedented special citation from the Kennedy Center Honors.

All that and more led to a filmed version featuring the original cast on Disney+, but “Hamilton” truly shines on stage. Productions are currently underway In Australia, Germany, London, New York and Toronto, with three concurrent North American tours.

Musician Yana Perrault, proudly “queer with a capital Q,” plays two roles on the musical’s touring Angelica Cast. She’s currently seen as Peggy Schuyler – the youngest of history’s Schuyler Sisters, one of whom married Hamilton – and Maria Reynolds, with whom he had an affair.

“Touring is such a beautiful challenge,” Perrault says, “one of the most beautiful challenges of my 20s. I know this is such a significant and special time in my life – and to be working on one of the biggest musicals is such a rewarding accomplishment.”

When she isn’t bringing Schuyler or Reynolds to the stage, Perrault is writing and producing music of her own. Her YouTube channel has more than 114,000 subscribers and she’s released a full-length album and multiple singles on most major streaming platforms. More than 33,000 monthly listeners follow her on Spotify alone.

Perrault says she’s long wanted to be a storyteller, something as evident in her music as it is in her contributions to “Hamilton.” The performer notes she’s “happy to be here, queer, booked and blessed” while celebrating authenticity on and off stage.

Watermark spoke with Perrault about “Hamilton,” her music and more ahead of the show’s run at Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts. The show plays now through Jan. 22.

WATERMARK: What drew you to performance?

Yana Perrault: My parents met doing theater in Michigan so I grew up in the craft of theater. I was always backstage, always in a community theater production or in a ballet or dance class. I found community theater in middle school, did it all through high school and I’ve just done it for free until one day someone paid me to do what I was already doing. (Laughs.) My parents made a life in theater and now I’m making a living out of it.

What can you share about your music?

I also grew up around music. I’ve been songwriting since middle school and I taught myself how to produce in GarageBand around the same time I discovered YouTube. I would post online to start building an audience, just posting covers, and then I’ve been releasing more original songs in recent years and collaborating with all the right people. So now we’re just working on getting my music into more ears, and “Hamilton” helps with that.

When did you first experience “Hamilton?”

I started hearing about “Hamilton” as soon as I got to college for musical theater. I went to Baldwin Wallace for one year just to find out school wasn’t for me, and I am so grateful for the training that I got. From day one people were like, “you’re going to play Peggy, you’re going to play Maria.” I was like, “I listen to rap at home, this is not what I need,” and then I really learned to love, appreciate and find all the intricacies within “Hamilton” as I learned the show. Now Maria and Peggy feel like part of my identity. Those are my homegirls and I am thanking “Hamilton” for everything I know.

How do you describe the show?

I think of “Hamilton” as being about the American dream. About building something and believing in it enough to build it and see it through, whether you’re around in life to see it through or not. It’s about the things we believe in and the things we love enough to see into existence, and who carries on that legacy.

How do you approach your roles?

With Peggy, I think of all my younger selves, that are just excited by the newness of this fresh America and this buzzing Manhattan. I let her be open, curious and also skeptical as she’s learning the path that she wants to take in this world as a young woman. With Maria, I kind of strip it all back – I mean, Maria is closer to me. They even let me wear my hair out for the role, which is special because when I joined I had a shaved head.

But with Maria, I feel like she sees more of what this America is. She has more of a feistiness as far as carving out her way in getting what she needs. So rather than playing her like a Disney villain, I really try to go for the humanity of it and ask, “what does this person need, and what are they willing to do to build something for themselves?”

Is it difficult to play two roles?

I think on any given day that “Hamilton” is hard. Which is such a blessing to say, I don’t think I would want to do an easy show. I wouldn’t be here because I love a challenge. But I think some days it’s hard to separate myself from the story I’m telling, and so as much as I’m giving my all, it’s important to keep my balance and just remember that I can give it all on stage and then go home to my life. But it’s easy if you can let yourself go for three hours at a time.

Why do you think “Hamilton” can resonate with LGBTQ audiences?

When I joined, I honestly found a tough time trying to find myself within “Hamilton.” But then I really had to listen to what we were saying and take away all the Colonial drag. When I would go word for word, no matter the time it’s said in — you could apply any of “Hamilton’s” words to what’s going on today. To what we live for, what we fight for and even just how lucky we are to be alive right now. There’s so much I still want to find joy in and celebrate while I am around amidst the adversity we face every day.

Also, doing “Hamilton” with my friends, we’re all open. Getting to look and see my kin on stage is also something to celebrate. I know my representation, just being on stage, is enough for a queer kid in the audience, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Just being on that stage, telling that story in a way that probably wouldn’t have been represented maybe 10 years ago in theater.

Why do you think live theater is so important today, especially after the height of the pandemic?

I was lucky enough to grow up in theater and so I know a lifetime of it already, but still within that realm of gratitude, we don’t know how long we’re going to have it. So while we have it, while we’re able to see it and while I’m still blessed enough to perform it, I hope people take advantage of that.

I’m so corny quoting the show twice now, but here we go. “How lucky we are to be alive right now.” If you can make it to live theater, let it bless you. Because you can watch it on Disney+, but I think live theatre is such a sacred art form that is still so potent. I think people really need that, especially in an age where we’re so desensitized to so many of the crazy things happening around us.

What message do you have for audiences?

All I can say is thank you to anyone coming to the shows and to anyone showing any interest in any of the things I’m putting out. Thank you so much, because I’m still finding myself and using all these platforms in the best way that I can to let people know they’re not alone. Art matters, art is awesome and lifesaving. I’m just excited to keep creating.

“Hamilton” plays at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts now through Jan. 22, located at 1010 N. Macinnes Pl. in Tampa. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit StrazCenter.org. Listen to Perrault’s music at Linktr.ee/YanaPerrault.

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