Skip to main content

'Hamilton' Star Renée Elise Goldsberry Becomes A 1-Hit Wonder In 'Girls5Eva'

Goldsberry played Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, and was also in the Broadway productions of Rent, The Color Purple and The Lion King. On TV, she's appeared on Ally McBeal, The Good Wife and One Life to Live.


Other segments from the episode on June 22, 2021

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Tuesday, June 23, 2021: Interview with Renee Elise Goldsberry; Review of 'Light Perpetual.'



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Our guest, Renee Elise Goldsberry, won a Tony Award for her performance in "Hamilton" and a Grammy for her work on the cast recording. She's now one of the stars of the new comedy series "Girls5eva" that's available on Peacock, NBC's streaming platform. She spoke with FRESH AIR'S Ann Marie Baldonado.

ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: You probably already know Renee Elise Goldsberry from this.


RENEE ELISE GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) Look around, look around - the revolution's happening in New York.

JASMINE CEPHAS JONES AND PHILIPPA SOO: (As Peggy Schuyler and Eliza Schuyler, singing) New York.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Angelica - work.

BALDONADO: That's her playing Angelica Schuyler in "Hamilton." She was also in the Broadway productions of "Rent," "The Color Purple" and "The Lion King." She was on TV shows like "Ally McBeal" and "The Good Wife," and the soap opera "One Life To Live." And now, she gets to show off her comedy chops, not to mention her ability to parody '90s pop songs, in a new show called "Girls5eva." It just got renewed for a second season.

So here's the plot. It's about a one-hit wonder girl group from the 1990s whose members have dropped out of music and have pretty much been living in obscurity. One of them's even a dentist. But when a hip-hop artist decides to sample one of their old songs, people remember. They perform together for the first time in decades on a late-night show and end up deciding they want to keep performing. They fire their sexist manager who took advantage of them when they were younger and decide to write their own new songs. They want to make it in music again as a group, even though the odds are against them.

The executive producer of "Girls5eva" is Tina Fey, and you can tell. The jokes come fast and feminist, and the songs may feel like you know them from the '90s, but the lyrics make fun of the misogyny of those times. Goldsberry plays the character Wickie, who tried to hold on to the success and fame with a solo career, but it never took off. She's still pretending to be a social media influencer, but in reality, her job is shooting geese at the airport. So when the group gets this second chance, Wickie thinks that finally the world will recognize her talent. In this scene, Wickie's trying to convince her bandmate, played by Sara Bareilles, to get the group back together.


GOLDSBERRY: (As Wickie) I was never done with music, OK? After I went solo, the label decided I was difficult just because I wouldn't let my backup singers wear makeup and refused to play venues that also did sports. I thought this little singing stuff was going to be my ticket back to the fame and the lifestyle I am owed because of the (singing) voice God put in my mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Shut up.

BALDONADO: Renee Elise Goldsberry, welcome to FRESH AIR.

GOLDSBERRY: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

BALDONADO: Can you describe your character, Wickie Roy?

GOLDSBERRY: Wickie is (laughter) desperately in need of a second chance. She is a woman who believes that stardom was destined for her. And she also is under the misbelief that she needed to climb over everybody along the way to achieve her dreams. And when we meet her, we discover that that did not work out for her. And she has a pretty hard lesson ahead of her to figure out how to turn, I think, what is a beautiful talent away from being something that's cancerous in her and into something that really lifts her and everyone around her up as high as possible.

BALDONADO: Well, the thing about Wickie is, you know, she works it. She's not going to let the realities of her life in show business get in the way of what she thinks her life in show business should be (laughter). Did you know people like that, like Wickie, during your career? Are there people that you kind of thought of as you were putting Wickie together?

GOLDSBERRY: I think that Wickie is, you know, a lot like me and everybody I know who has a dream and feels like they have a really big God-given talent, and, you know, they're staring at a huge mountain of how to climb it and they're not really quite sure. I think the thing that's different about her is that very thing of not being aware of the value of allies, I think, you know? And that - I definitely met people along the way, coming up, who believed this lie that somehow or another, you know, we were competing against each other. I had to, like, you know, stand in front of you, push in front of you, sing louder than you to make it; like, somebody was going to choose me over you, as though we were in some kind of a relay race, or it was like some wrestling match.

I don't believe that, and I know some people do. But most of the people, I think, that do really well in this industry are aware of the value of goodwill among men and women and how important it is to have people, you know, at all levels as peers on your side trying to make it through. So I think that's the lesson that she needs to learn. And that, I think, is the thing that differentiates her.

BALDONADO: The series pokes fun at this. I think that there's kind of encouragement of women to kind of feel that way. You know, like there's only one slot - like, only one person or, like, one woman of color gets to be the star of something. And that kind of causes what can be seen as, like, this - you know, this competition.

GOLDSBERRY: I do believe the world, I mean, pits people against each other in that way. I can think of so many times in my life where I felt like people were trying to do that to me and some other woman that was my same type sitting next to me in an audition room. I remember being on a plane when I was - gosh, decades ago - auditioning for "One Life To Live." I had a screen test, and I was being flown out to Los Angeles - from Los Angeles to New York for this huge opportunity. There was me and two other Black girls on this plane, and only one of them would speak to me (laughter). And the other one, you know, was, like, all off to herself, like, being very intimidating. And she was probably scared to death.

But out of the three of us, you know, none of us got the job (laughter). But, you know, me and the girl that I talked to on that plane, we're still friends, like, 20-something years later. I mean, she's still one of my best friends. I mean, that's what we get out of this if we're aware of the fact that we're not competing with each other.

BALDONADO: Well, but you did eventually get a job on "One Life To Live," though (laughter).

GOLDSBERRY: I did. Many, many, many years later, I actually did get a job on that very show.

BALDONADO: Going back to "Girls5eva," I think part of the reason why people love this series is the songs. They sound just like they're supposed to sound genre-wise. They sound like songs from the late '90s, early 2000s from girl and boy groups, but they also make fun of the lyrics.

GOLDSBERRY: (Laughter).

BALDONADO: Do you have a favorite song of the ones you sang?

GOLDSBERRY: Oh, my gosh. Well, "Dream Girlfriends" is this one song - (singing) we are dream girlfriends because our dads are dead. So you never have to meet them and get asked why you left school.

Like, they're just so random (laughter), you know?

BALDONADO: There's, like, the line about Tarantino. Like, I love Tarantino. I like stand-up, but not by women.

GOLDSBERRY: (Laughter) Exactly, yeah. Like, they're - you know, and that's - every single song from "The Splingee" to "Famous 5eva" to - you know, they're just so brilliantly constructed by Jeff Richmond and this wonderful team of - Meredith Scardino wrote a lot of the lyrics, as well. I think what's so crazy is that they walk this line between being real songs that somebody would put out in the '90s, like you said, making fun - actually kind of making us aware of some of the ridiculous things that we might have thought - but also being just good enough to be - to make it on an album, but you understand why it didn't make it as a hit. Like, how do you do that? You know, you understand when you're hearing it why this didn't make it.

BALDONADO: I think one other thing - or one of the things that people love is the fact that these women are realizing just how sexist the system was, the music industry. Like, we're talking about the lyrics, but, you know, the way their male manager treated them, the way the record industry treated them. Was that something important to you, this feminist take on girl groups and the women who were in them?

GOLDSBERRY: What's crazy is I don't know that I was so aware of it until we started, you know, singing these songs and talking about it. I think - and what's crazy - even more crazy, is that I didn't even know that it had really affected my life while I was shooting it. I was actually in a girl group that had the same experience, and I didn't even think to mention it to any of my castmates.

BALDONADO: You didn't remember?

GOLDSBERRY: I knew that I was in a girl group. I mean, I knew that we didn't, you know, make it even as far as Girls5eva back in the late '90s. For whatever reason, I didn't recognize how relevant my story was. That's just how blinded we are about kind of the culture that we kind of have grown up in. I mean, even while I was a part of a show that was spoofing it, I was not aware that this actually happened in my life. It's crazy just to think of just how unaware we are of the biases that we grew up in.

BALDONADO: Now, a few - you know, a few of the characters in "Girls5eva" after, you know, their one hit or after the '90s, they leave music. You know, the character Gloria is a dentist.

GOLDSBERRY: (Laughter).

BALDONADO: Dawn runs a restaurant. In your career, did you ever have a moment when you thought, you know, you'd do your dentist turn?


GOLDSBERRY: Oh, my gosh - all the time, every day. I came up in this career asking, if this isn't going to happen, kill it. I just feel like there's something tragic about people spending their lives trying to do something, especially in the arts, if it's not going to happen because I feel our skills are so transferable. I just always felt like I could be a really good teacher. I could be a real - I thought I could be a really good lawyer, and then I married one, and I realized that that's - you know, thank God that didn't happen (laughter) 'cause I - you know, it's much harder than I thought.

But I really do believe there are so many ways to be valuable in the world that has nothing to do with standing on a stage in this capacity. It's so fun. It's so wonderful to do. It's so powerful. I would do it as a hobby if no one would pay me to do it. But there are so many other things that I could do. I never, ever, ever wanted to take, you know, this stance on life that this is all I could do. And so I was always ready. And I'm ready today. Like, if this is it, what other place can I be valuable in this world? And you know, Wickie, I don't know that she's thinking that when she's shooting geese at the airport.


GOLDSBERRY: I think she's just trying to survive. But I think if she understood that she had value wherever she was, she probably would be in a different place.

BALDONADO: Our guest is Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor and singer Renee Elise Goldsberry. The "Hamilton" star has a new comedy series called "Girls5eva" that's available on Peacock. More after a break - this is FRESH AIR.


BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. Our guest is Renee Elise Goldsberry. She won a Tony and a Grammy for her role as Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway show "Hamilton." She now stars in the comedy show "Girls5eva," which just got renewed for a new season.

And one thing you did as an actor in New York was work on "One Life To Live." How long were you on "One Life To Live"?

GOLDSBERRY: I was on "One Life To Live" for four years. It was one contract. And it was such a brilliant training ground. I should say it was like getting another master's degree in something. It was really great training for television acting, for film acting, even. It was a great way to learn how to make a character, you know, worthy of the rooting factor.

BALDONADO: Talk about that, what the rooting factor is.

GOLDSBERRY: In soap operas sometimes, I felt like the writing was about pulling off really big ideas, like a serial killer's going to come to town or some major thing is going to happen. This couple has to get together; that's really the biggest thing. There's always a destiny couple. And if you play a character just 100%, you know, aligned to whatever the big action is or whatever big moment is going to happen without an awareness of really creating a character the audience will understand, you really sell your character short. You sell your character out.

And it's really perfect really for Wickie. Like, Wickie is the reason this group did not make it, you know, in "Girls5eva." Like, the way she treated them, the way she left - it's really her fault. And she is so self-absorbed. And if you just do that and check that box, who's going to care? But if you understand underneath all of it that it's really my job to make sure that I play this woman in such a way that you might not like what I do, but I understand why you're doing it - if there is, like, some love or joy or some light inside of you that can still find a way to come through while you're doing this crazy thing or pulling off this crazy thing, the character has much more longevity. And that's the only way to survive a soap opera. I used to call being on a soap opera, like, playing a game of - what is that television show, "Survivor"?

BALDONADO: (Laughter).

GOLDSBERRY: Because it was always a question every time you showed up to work of, you know, who was gone? Who was fired or recast? And the way you could kind of have any longevity was to make sure that the actor - you were the actor that the fans were going to root for.

BALDONADO: What was the weirdest or most interesting plotline because, you know, I've done some watching of soap operas. And, you know, sometimes it can be pretty wacky as far as, like - you know, like you said, serial killer or, you know, switching babies. Like, what...

GOLDSBERRY: (Laughter).

BALDONADO: I'm actually not familiar with "One Life To Live" at the time period when you were there. But what was, like, the most interesting thing that your character got into?

GOLDSBERRY: Well, probably the most interesting was just when she went blind and playing, you know, playing that for, you know, in a way that was interesting for as long as she was blind and then making it believable when she got her eyesight back (laughter).

BALDONADO: Oh, that's so great she got her eyesight back.


GOLDSBERRY: But what was really a great learning - but a great lesson for me to learn in playing the soap opera was how to be a Black actress in that world because in soap operas, the world was really - if you were - if you came on to a soap opera and you were an interesting actor, no matter what role you were playing, if they felt there was some spark to you, the formula was that they would connect you to the main family on the show. You would - they would discover that you were, like, the great-granddaughter of Asa Buchanan, you know?

And then you would be - 'cause the show was about this main family. And if you were a Black actor on the show, you know, they weren't making you related to the main family no matter how good you were. All you could really do on the show was be a lawyer or a doctor and just be kind of a two-dimensional good character in the world because they were being very responsible with, you know, their ethnic actors. And they would make you good. But how boring is that? How absolutely boring is it to be a lawyer and be good and say something smart and leave and no one gets to come home to your house and meet your family?

And so the challenge, I learned, was, how do I embody this role, being this lawyer, and find any vulnerability, anything interesting that can make somebody watching the show care enough to write in for me that they'll write something more? And so when they finally, you know, made me blind and they gave me a sister on the show, played by Tika Sumpter, who's having an amazing career right now - when they finally filled out my life and my family and gave me a love interest, it was a reward for finding something within me that could make something that felt like a box, you know, more dimensional.

BALDONADO: You went to college for performing arts at Carnegie Mellon. What kind of performer did you want to be there, like, when you were going through that training?

GOLDSBERRY: Carnegie Mellon is filled with triple threats. They sing. They dance. They act. Maybe quadruple threats - they play the piano. You have, you know, really - you know, Leslie Odom Jr. came out of Carnegie Mellon University, as did Billy Porter, as did, like, a long string of really, really wonderful, you know, talented people that came before and after me. When I got to Carnegie Mellon, it was the first time I questioned, you know, my ability to do this at all because the people were so talented.

What I love about training is that I realized natural talent really isn't enough. You have to work hard. So I wanted to be a disciplined artist. I wanted to develop, you know, a craft as opposed to just taking for granted that I could open my mouth and sing. And our main focus was acting. Everybody could sing. We trained - we kept our dance training going, but the acting was the focus. And I started really considering myself and my ability as an actor one of the most important things because I could see how greatly it influenced all the other arts, you know? If I was a great actor, I'd be a better singer. If I was a great actor, I'd be a better - I could be a better writer, a better storyteller. I could do a lot of things better if I could really shape that mind.

BALDONADO: So after Carnegie Mellon, you went to Broadway pretty quickly, or New York. So Broadway - was that your first goal?

GOLDSBERRY: It absolutely was, but it was not quick (laughter).

BALDONADO: OK (laughter).

GOLDSBERRY: It was years, years, years, years, years. It took me a really long time. I had a lot of friends that were on Broadway. They did everything they could to help me. I had a friend, Ty Taylor, who was in a show - I think "Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." He even, like, slipped me with a friend early so he could teach me some choreography to get in the chorus, and I still couldn't get in with all the help I had. Yeah, it took a really, really long time for a Broadway debut at, like, 30 in "The Lion King." But I absolutely love the theater more than anything in the world because it is the most challenging and the most immediately satisfying. And to be able to stand on stage with a group of people - oh, gosh, it's the most - it's just - it's the greatest thrill in the world.

BALDONADO: You got a master's degree from the University of Southern California, a master's in jazz studies - vocal jazz. What made you do that?

GOLDSBERRY: (Laughter).

BALDONADO: What made you go back to school? And what does it mean to have a master's in vocal jazz, for those of us who don't know?

GOLDSBERRY: I feel like sometimes theater casts singers in a role that is limiting because you're always trying to sing like whatever girl originated the song on Broadway as opposed to knowing how you sing. So I picked jazz because it's 100% about, you know, the uniqueness of your voice. It doesn't have to be anything but true to you and authentic. It's like jazz is about - it's the opposite of theater in that it's like, there's only this many songs. Everybody is going to sing these same standards. It's a question of how you sing it. You sing it. Your arrangement of it is what makes it great. And it just makes a singer a musician and not just a singer that's told what to do.

And I wanted that kind of - I just wanted to feel that way about my voice. I wanted to feel - I wanted to embrace what's unique about me and not be thinking something's wrong with me because I don't sound like Audra McDonald, who is amazing. But I'm not her. Like, I wanted to be in a world that would encourage that, and so I picked jazz studies (laughter). I'm also a huge fan of Sarah Vaughan, so I just wanted to do - to be anywhere where I could, you know, sing, you know, like her or the ways that I sing like her would be embraced.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Renee Elise Goldsberry. She stars in the comedy series "Girls5eva" that's streaming on Peacock. It was just renewed for a second season. Goldsberry also starred in the original Broadway production of "Hamilton." We'll hear more of the interview after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


SARA BAREILLES, RENEE ELISE GOLDSBERRY, ERIKA HENNINGSEN, ASHLEY PARK AND BUSY PHILIPPS: (As Girls5eva, singing) Going to be famous five-ever (ph) 'cause forever's too short. Going to be famous three-gether (ph) 'cause that's one more than together. People staring at us, thinking we are badass, watching as we wave goodbye. Our stomachs are the flattest. Riding in our Lexus. Life really affects us - drinking Veuve Clicquot champagne and texting all our exes, playing with our brand-new flip phones, talking with our friends. See the new ink on our hip bones. That's how our story begins. Going to be famous five-ever.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Renee Elise Goldsberry. She won a Tony for her performance in "Hamilton" and a Grammy for her work on the cast recording. Goldsberry is now one of the stars of the new comedy series "Girls5eva" that's on NBC's streaming platform Peacock.

BALDONADO: One of your breakout moments was in a production at Shakespeare in the Park, the musical "Two Gentlemen Of Verona," and you got great reviews. The Times called you - what is it? A spark...

GOLDSBERRY: I can tell you. I remember.

BALDONADO: Oh, you can tell me.


BALDONADO: What was it? What did the Times call you?

GOLDSBERRY: A spark plug of musical wit and vitality, I believe it says.


BALDONADO: So yeah - so this is a show in Shakespeare in the Park. What year is...

GOLDSBERRY: This is 2005.

BALDONADO: 2005. So what did that show - what was the impact on your career of that show?

GOLDSBERRY: It was huge. It was huge. I remember when I got the soap opera. I was still on the soap opera at the time. I remember my fear of the job was that I would be not written for but in a contract where I, you know, I was just sitting there and I couldn't do anything else. And the beauty is the opposite happened. They did end up writing for me, and I had an opportunity. My executive producer, Frank Valentini, used to let me do all the theater in the world. He just made it work. And Kathleen Marshall cast me to play Silvia in "Two Gentlemen Of Verona," opposite Norm Lewis with Rosario Dawson and Oscar Isaac.

And there I was in this show 'cause Kathleen Marshall just took a chance on me from my audition. I was nobody. And she created this - just like Wickie. It's like, you know, they created this amazingly interesting, fantastic character. They put this great, huge afro on me and engineered some amazing boobs somehow in this dress. I had the greatest music written by Galt, you know, MacDermot and John Guare. And for whatever reason, the sun literally went down and the moon came up and the stars started shining on my number every single night in the park (laughter). So there was a lot working for me. And it was amazing. I got great reviews, and it definitely was the turning point in my career from being a working actor in a soap opera who could, you know, replacement cast people in Broadway shows to being an actor that could actually originate, you know, parts in shows that people actually would look to me and actually give me a shot.

And I used to - I would come out from the theater, and people that had totally ignored me in auditions - I mean, they were doing that "Dreamgirls" movie. Like, I couldn't even get past the first round in any of these auditions. You know, two weeks later, I'm in Shakespeare in the Park, and I would - and these same casting directors would be begging themselves to just get me to say hello to them. And all of this happened in my career at the moment that I was pregnant. I was three, 3 1/2 months pregnant. And I remember thinking, this is so ironic because my career is finally going to happen, and all I want to do is go paint a baby room.

BALDONADO: So then what was your next role after Shakespeare in the Park?

GOLDSBERRY: I got cast to be Nettie in the first Broadway production of "The Color Purple." And I remember being at that audition, and I sang something. And then before I left, they actually sat me down. It's the only time this has happened for a Broadway show where they sat me in the room, and they all told me that they were praying that I would take the job. I didn't even have to leave for them to tell me that. And I remember being like, I can't believe this is happening because I hadn't even told my agents that I was - or my manager that I was pregnant. And so I remember telling her - calling her afterwards and saying, they just gave me this job. Call them, and say thank you, and let them know I can't do it because I'm pregnant. And she told them that I was pregnant, and they gave me the job anyway.

BALDONADO: Gosh. Was it hard to make those kind of decisions? I mean, I don't know if it's changed at all as far as whether or not, you know, you have to make tough decisions being pregnant as a stage actor. I guess - I mean - and it's different - right? - because I don't know. It's there. You're onstage. It's very physical.

GOLDSBERRY: Yeah. In any profession, it's hard for women to make choices and decisions about having a baby. And it's always hard. First of all, it's just hard to have a baby. Let's start there. Whether you're trying to balance it with a career or a job or not, it's - that's got its own challenges. And when you think on top of that, of having to use your body to do the job, it's scary, and it's hard. And fortunately, because it was hard for me because I had some miscarriages early, it really got my priorities right. When I was in "The Color Purple," I was designed to be there for just a couple of months, and they were building dresses that could grow on me so that I could leave right around six months of pregnancy. But right before I left, I lost the baby. It was a pretty - you know, very devastating second-trimester loss. And you know, I stayed for a couple of extra - like, maybe an extra month after that, just until they could recast me and left the show.

And I - you know, I think it's interesting because I, you know, kept living and had children, and my life, went on. But part of me always felt like there must be some sadness and pain remnants with that company and the producers for "The Color Purple" because they were a part of that. I don't know if they felt in any way responsible. I don't know how they felt. But when I was standing on the stage, you know, accepting a Tony for "Hamilton," I didn't think it was an accident that it was the 10-year mark for "Color Purple" revival. So when I looked out at the audience, I saw those producers sitting in the audience, and I wanted to say, look; you know, we made it. It's OK. You know. It's really a (crying) - I get emotional thinking about it (laughter). But it was a beautiful thing because I think sometimes, like, victories can happen in your personal life, and you want to just share them.

BALDONADO: Yeah. No. And you know, thank you for talking about miscarriage because I think that that's something that maybe is more talked about now. But even as - you know, even, like, five years ago, it felt less so. And, you know, as some - I've had a miscarriage, and it's just like - it's very - I don't know. You just don't know who to talk to about it. It's very difficult, but it's so common. So sometimes, you know, just hearing that it's common helps, I think.

GOLDSBERRY: I think hearing that it's common helps. And I also think hearing women not feel responsible for them is important. I don't know that you can separate, you know, in your identity, like, your success in having children. Like, I think we need to separate that from who we are. I think there's something that feels like, somehow or another, we're responsible if it doesn't work out, even if it's totally science. And so I think, you know, not only talking about the fact that, hey, I had one, too, and it's OK. I think the other one is to say, and I take no responsibility for the fact that, you know, that pregnancy didn't work out, but this one did. Like, you know, this is the way my life was supposed to go. Take it from me. Stay on the road. You will get to where you're going, and it's OK. You know, give yourself a break.

BALDONADO: Is it harder - and if this is too personal, just let me know. Is it harder? Because I feel like - particularly the way you perform - or, like, you know, on Broadway, how people perform - it's so physical. Like, I think when people have miscarriages, they sometimes do blame themselves. Is it hard when you're, like - have to be that physical in your performance, in your work life?

GOLDSBERRY: There's absolutely times when women need to be on bed rest. And they're told, you know, you can't do these - this set of things. And that is just one instance of what can happen in a pregnancy. In my particular case, it's - it seems ironic, but, like, my successful pregnancy happened when I was hanging upside down the rafters in "Rent" - performing, like, at the closing night of "Rent." My body actually needed to be under a lot of physical stress, I learned, in, like, my whole journey in order for a pregnancy to be successful. So I think every case is so unique and so different.

But what I love so much about women in the public eye - I mean, I'm definitely not the only one. I mean, almost every television show I've been on, whether it's, you know, "The Good Wife" or, you know, gosh - you know, so many shows, the woman that was No. 1 on the call sheet also had a baby there. When I was in "Color Purple," I was playing LaChanze's little sister, and she had two little kids the whole time she was doing it. I mean, I remember seeing Audra onstage in "Shuffle Along." She was shuffling along on a tabletop. I don't know, was she four or five months pregnant? I don't know. I mean, I'm actually doing a documentary about this with Kelli O'Hara, and I remember seeing Kelli O'Hara in a production pregnant.

Like, there is something about a woman in her second trimester that is superhero-ish (ph), you know? And we really can do anything. And when you get to watch a woman onstage pregnant, doing all that and just proving it to you, there's nothing more exciting in the world. So I really lift up all the producers that took that chance - you know, that take that chance. And I mean, it's risky business, and it's worth it. So I hope they continue to.

BALDONADO: Our guest is Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor and singer Renee Elise Goldsberry. The "Hamilton" star has a new comedy series called "Girls5eva" that's available on Peacock. More after a break - this is FRESH AIR.


BALDONADO: This is FRESH AIR. Our guest is Renee Elise Goldsberry. She won a Tony and a Grammy for her role as Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway show "Hamilton." She now stars in the comedy show "Girls5eva," which just got renewed for a new season.

How did you become involved with "Hamilton"? I think Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tommy Kail, the director, wanted you, but you were hesitant at first?

GOLDSBERRY: (Laughter) I don't know that they wanted me.

BALDONADO: (Laughter).

GOLDSBERRY: But let's say that.



BALDONADO: They totally did.

GOLDSBERRY: They just needed a woman that could rap this really fast, hard rap. And there's a million wonderful performing women - many of them I know well - that could do it. But they just needed to make sure that they were hiring a woman that could do that rap in "Satisfied." But Lin and Tommy did not know me. And so I came in and auditioned, and I did my version of "Satisfied" for them. And when it was over, Tommy slid a glass of water across the table - (laughter) 'cause clearly my mouth was a little dry - and asked me to do it again. They gave me some notes. I sang at the piano with Alex Lacamoire, and they gave me the opportunity to play that role in the off-Broadway - actually before off-Broadway. It was the workshop of the show. And I spent the rest - the next couple of years fighting to hold on to that part (laughter).

BALDONADO: What do you mean?

GOLDSBERRY: Well, I think - there's a thing about being recast. I mean, there's - I've been in workshops of shows where they came - they brought somebody else in after me that they thought was going to be better for it. I think I probably replaced an actor or two. I know a couple women I think I replaced that were in earlier workshops of "Hamilton." And I just didn't think I could live in a world (laughter) where I almost had this role. I knew it was the greatest production I had ever - I just - I had never seen anything like it. The closest was "In The Heights" when I saw it on Broadway. I knew the role was special. I knew there was just magic everywhere. It was - the magic was distracting. It was hard for me to even focus on doing my job in the play 'cause I was looking around at all the magic around me on the stage. It was like nothing I had ever encountered, and I didn't want it to have come through my hands. I just - I wanted it to stay.

BALDONADO: Now, I want to ask you about that song you mentioned, "Satisfied." It's a big number. And I - you know, for people who - I don't know who these people are - but for people who don't know "Hamilton," "Satisfied" is kind of an emotional high point for you in the show. It's kind of - you're narrating the events that have just happened through your perspective. And whenever I hear this song or see you in the movie version of the play, it just seems like this huge feat because, you know, there's choreography and then - it's just this huge feat of breathing. And I just don't know how you got through it. But we're going to hear a little bit of it right now.


GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) I remember that night. I just might regret that night for the rest of my days. I remember those soldier boys tripping over themselves to win our praise. I remember that dream like candlelight, like a dream that you can't quite place. But, Alexander, I'll never forget the first time I saw your face. I have never been the same. Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame. And when you said hi, I forgot my dang name. Set my heart aflame, every part aflame. This is not a game.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied.

GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) I'm sure I don't know what you mean. You forget yourself.

MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) You're like me. I'm never satisfied.

GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) Is that right?

MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) I have never been satisfied.

GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) My name is Angelica Schuyler.

MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) Alexander Hamilton.

GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) Where's your family from?

MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, singing) Unimportant, there's a million things I haven't done. But just you wait, just you wait.

GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, rapping) So, so, so, so this is what it feels like to match wits with someone at your level. What the hell is the catch? It's the feeling of freedom, of seeing the light. It's Ben Franklin with a key and a kite. You see it, right? The conversation lasted two minutes, maybe three minutes. Everything we said in total agreement. It's a dream, and it's a bit of a dance, a bit of a posture, it's a bit of a stance. He's a bit of a flirt, but I'm going to give it a chance.

BALDONADO: That's Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler from the movie version of "Hamilton." So how did you get through this number every time?

GOLDSBERRY: (Laughter) Oh, my goodness. Well, I had a whole lot of help. I actually loved watching it on Disney+ because I actually got to see just how much support there was around me. The music is amazing. The dramatic moment of this song just stopping time and having the entire journey of one character within one number, you know, a decision that she makes that changes the lives of three people within one song is so brilliant. So it's a feat. It's a lot of words.

BALDONADO: (Laughter).

GOLDSBERRY: And it's a rangy song. And emotionally, it's even greater. But it's constructed so beautifully that I found it so easy. The hardest thing for me to do with that song in the beginning was to not be crying at the end of it because the choice was so stark and so painful. And I just felt - it was constructed so beautifully that it moved me so greatly, that it was hard for me to sing the end of the song. But the rap, which is what I get so much credit for, was always easy for me because it's written so commonsensically. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a - I mean, I played a lawyer many, many years.

BALDONADO: (Laughter) You did.

GOLDSBERRY: And he wrote an argument that is so methodically - it's like, number one, number two, number three. Like, it's so methodically laid out. This is such a smart woman. And in a moment, she just sees it all clearly. It's a dissertation. And I've always been really good at memorizing things when I understand the thought process. And hers is crystal clear.

BALDONADO: Now, we just learned that "Girls5eva" is coming back for Season 2.

GOLDSBERRY: Whoo (ph).

BALDONADO: Congratulations.

GOLDSBERRY: Right now, we're just having a huge party about it. Somebody told me that in LA somebody was skywriting "Girls5eva." I mean, right now we're still pinching ourselves because, you know, we were, like, this little show, you know? We were a little show being shot in COVID on this little streaming platform that was brand-new that, you know, no one really knew much about, Peacock, you know? And now, you know, somebody wrote "Girls5eva" in the sky. I'm sure it was somebody that worked for Peacock, but still.

BALDONADO: (Laughter) No.

GOLDSBERRY: It was in the sky in LA for your consideration. Like, we are pinching ourselves because this is a labor of love. And to see that, you know, we got a second season and that we get to do it again, hopefully in a time when the COVID, you know, rules are less strict, to see that we just get to be together again, is a gift. And the fact that we get to make more of this candy (laughter) is wonderful because people really love it.

BALDONADO: Renee Elise Goldsberry, thank you so much for joining us.

GOLDSBERRY: Oh, thank you for having me. Thank you for doing all that you do.

GROSS: Renee Elise Goldsberry spoke with FRESH AIR's Ann Marie Baldonado. Goldsberry is one of the stars of the series "Girls5eva," which was just renewed for a second season. It's available on Peacock, NBC's streaming platform.

After we take a short break, Maureen Corrigan will review a new novel by British writer Francis Spufford, inspired by a plaque commemorating the lives of the people, including 11 children, killed in a World War II rocket attack on a Woolworths. He imagines what the lives of those children might have been like had they lived. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLARK TERRY'S "IMPULSIVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.


This Romanian film about immigration and vanishing jobs hits close to home

R.M.N. is based on an actual 2020 event in Ditrău, Romania, where 1,800 villagers voted to expel three Sri Lankans who worked at their local bakery.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue