Anthony Ramos, star of Grammy, Pulitzer Prize-winning Hamilton, talks Brooklyn with the Eagle
When a Brooklynite speaks face to face with another Brooklyn native about his or her shared home, there’s a palpable energy present that words cannot explain.
Such was the case when the Brooklyn Eagle caught up with Bushwick native and star in the Broadway mega-hit “Hamilton,” Anthony Ramos. The show, which won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, was just awarded a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama this past Monday. “Hamilton” was transferred from off-Broadway to Broadway in August 2015.
Responding to questions posed from a Brooklyn angle, Ramos was all smiles as he exuded love and enthusiasm for the borough in which he grew up.
After performing a remarkable rendition of the national anthem prior to a New York City Football Club (NYCFC) match at Yankee Stadium in early April, the “Hamilton” star spoke with the Eagle to talk all things Brooklyn, including how his Brooklyn upbringing has contributed to his success.
Ramos also spoke about his baseball career at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, his love for the Brooklyn Nets, acting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and performing “Hamilton” for President Barack Obama.
In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” a hip-hop inspired musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton, Ramos plays the roles of Hamilton’s eldest son Philip, and of an American soldier, abolitionist and statesman from South Carolina, John Laurens.
The musical has garnered renowned critical acclaim and has received unprecedented advance box office sales. There is currently an extensive waiting list for admission, and ticket resellers have tickets set at a minimum of $650.
The Brooklyn native of Puerto Rican descent grew up in the projects of Bushwick and was able to persevere through humble beginnings and thrive as an actor in large part due to Brooklyn and the values the borough instilled in him, Ramos told the Eagle. He praises Brooklyn for giving him the strength, character and wit to get to where he is today.
“Brooklyn is such an interesting place, and there’s so much culture and so much grit, and growing up immersed in all of that is amazing,” Ramos told the Eagle. “I grew up in the projects in Bushwick but went to high school in Bensonhurst, and they were two completely different kinds of neighborhoods.
“I lived in a regular residential apartment building in Bensonhurst for three years with my aunt, and I really got to see the different spectrums as far as culture and languages and all those things,” Ramos said.
“Brooklyn is the biggest melting pot in New York, so it was awesome to grow up there,” he added. “I grew up in a pretty tough neighborhood, so it was kind of rough growing up, but that created some thick skin for me and helped me persevere a lot in my life, especially in my career.”
While speaking to the Eagle, Ramos was still collecting himself after he had just moments before, decked out in NYCFC paraphernalia, entranced 22,930 rowdy soccer supporters with his angelic voice.
Ramos, who played baseball at New Utrecht High School and who once had aspirations to play Division III ball, reflected on singing the national anthem at Yankee stadium and Citi Field, the home of his preferred team, the Mets.
“It’s historic, man,” Ramos told the Eagle. “To be able to sing at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium in the same week is mind-blowing. If you were to tell me this was going to happen to me five years ago, even a month ago, I would have been like, ‘ha-ha, very funny.’
“It’s a dream to get to sing on the field that all these historic players have played on,” Ramos continued.
Ramos spoke about the lessons he learned on the baseball diamonds of Brooklyn and how those teachings overlapped onto the Broadway stage.
“Playing baseball helped me a lot,” Ramos said. “That competitive aspect of the game and the discipline and teamwork were key lessons in my coming up in this particular career that I’ve picked, and I’m really grateful for all those things —especially growing up in Brooklyn.”
Ramos compared the “Hamilton” cast to his baseball teammates.
“You can’t do the show by yourself,” Ramos told the Eagle. “There isn’t one person that makes the show good. The show is good because it’s a company and it’s a team and it takes 22 people on that stage to make that thing happen the way it does. And it takes eight to 10 people off stage to make it happen as well.”
Ramos continued with the analogy.
“Your bench players have to be just as deep as your starters, and we’ve got a deep bench at ‘Hamilton,’ and they really carry us a lot,” Ramos said.
“The starters have been with the show a long time, but we keep each other afloat,” Ramos continued. “The thing that makes us go is each other. That was one of the biggest things I picked up from sports is learning how to work with one another to make something awesome happen.”
In addition to singing at baseball fields, Ramos also performed the national anthem on the court for his beloved Nets before a game on March 13 at Barclays Center.
“I sang at the Nets game not too long ago,” Ramos told the Eagle. “I’ve never been that nervous. I was more nervous to sing at the Nets game than I was at the Mets game. It was awesome — really awesome. Jason Kidd is my favorite player, and Kidd used to coach the Nets,” said Ramos. “Now he’s coaching the Milwaukee Bucks and the Nets so happened to be playing the Milwaukee Bucks that day. I walk into my green room and who do I pass in the hall but Jason Kidd.
“I’m trying to hook Jason up with some tickets [to ‘Hamilton’],” Ramos continued. “I was like, ‘Come on, Jason, just come!’ That was awesome to be in Brooklyn and have all those things happen in one night.”
When asked if singing at Barclays Center was more nerve-racking than performing “Hamilton” in front of the president, Ramos laughed.
“That was the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Ramos said. “It was like nothing else.
“Obama’s a cool dude,” Ramos continued. “He told me I had ‘fresh kicks.’ I was like, ‘thank you, Mr. Barack.’ I told him, ‘I came to the White House, I had to put a little something on.’ He was like, ‘yeah, you came correct.’”
Around the corner from Barclays Center is BAM, another venue that resonates with Ramos.
Ramos grew up watching Shakespeare at the BAM Harvey Theater and he partnered with Miranda for a musical called “21 Chump Street,” which was performed at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House for the multi-day festival RadioLoveFest.
Miranda, who is the author, composer, lyricist and lead actor in “Hamilton,” eventually offered Ramos a role in the show following their partnership at BAM.
Ramos reflected on performing at the iconic theater.
“Oh man, I used to watch shows at the BAM Harvey Theater, which was a lot smaller than the opera house — so to perform in front of a little over 2,000 seats at the BAM opera house was crazy,” Ramos told the Eagle. “My mind was blown.”
“Lin blessed me with the lead role in ‘21 Chump Street,’” Ramos continued. “It was just a blessing to again be in Brooklyn, right off Atlantic Avenue, performing at one of the biggest stages in Brooklyn.”
“Like I said, there’s so much culture in Brooklyn. It was only fitting that something like the RadioLoveFest happened at BAM, so it was amazing.”
Ramos finished the interview in true Brooklyn fashion as he flashed his ear-to-ear smile.
“I wouldn’t want to grow up anywhere else. I want to raise my kids in Brooklyn,” Ramos said.
It’s safe to say he’s proud of Brooklyn — and Brooklyn of him.
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