Like everyone else, I thought “Hamilton’’ was wonderful when I saw it two weeks ago in San Francisco. In the row where I sat, people sang along. When the big show-stoppers came — “The Room Where It Happens,’’ or “Helpless,’’ you could feel the excitement and pace.
Without knowing in advance, I was given a columnist’s gift that Thursday night — the local angle. The actor who played Hamilton was Ryan Vasquez, a San Jose native, graduate of Bellarmine College Prep and alumnus of the much-vaunted Children’s Musical Theater San Jose.
Vasquez was very good in the lead: He’s a better singer than Lin-Manuel Miranda, though maybe not with the same hip-hop street presence. Above all, he is versatile: The young actor has also played Burr and Washington.
I couldn’t reach Vasquez for an interview — the show has already moved on to Los Angeles — but in an extensive playbill interview, the Bellarmine graduate said he could not recommend his high school enough as a breeding ground for those “who understand compassion and recognize the need to see the world through others’ eyes.’’ And he gracefully thanked CMT for early lessons. (His first show, at age 8, was “Schoolhouse Rock Live.”
As a dad whose kids have been at both places, I had to stand up and silently applaud. My younger son graduated from Bellarmine a year ahead of Vasquez. And both my girls have had roles in Children’s Musical Theater productions.
I was struck by something else, too. The playbill interview, usually the stuff of fluff and canned anecdotes, offered an extraordinary piece of candid insight. The interviewer asked Vasquez, “If you could send a message back in time, what advice would you give yourself?”
“Theater is cool,’’ said Vasquez, who dates Solea Pfieffer of the Hamilton national touring cast (Eliza). “Never stop working hard at it, even if you think you have something in the bag. Listen to people, and always think of what they’re going through before you respond. Above all, I would just say to stop caring what people think.
“”Every time you’re insecure about the way (others) might be looking at you, they’re looking at themselves in the mirror and wondering what people are thinking about them in that exact moment. Just don’t worry — it’s not that deep.’’
That’s remarkably mature advice coming from a man in his mid-20s. (Vasquez graduated from Bellarmine in 2010 and from the University of Michigan theater program in 2014). It takes many of us a lifetime to reach that insight.
It’s not that Vasquez is saying to ignore advice. And clearly the charming young San Jose native has followed his own counsel about working hard.
“Ryan has earned everything he’s achieved through hard work, natural talent he’s honed, and going for it without question,” says Michael Mulcahy, a businessman and former executive director of CMT.
On the basic question of how we judge ourselves, however, Vasquez’s comment reinforces a critical truth. What matters is not what others think of us, but we what think of ourselves.
That’s a hard thing to remember in the era of clicks, likes and dislikes, and the unforgiving verdict of social media. It’s particularly hard for an actor who has to live with a barrage of conflicting suggestions from fans and critics.
I’ve been taking a course this summer on 19th-century Paris and the impressionists at the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization in Cupertino.
I can tell you this: The greatest of them were willing to defy public judgment to push the boundaries of art. As Ryan Vasquez says, criticism just isn’t that deep.
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