How ‘Hamilton’ showstopper Renée Elise Goldsberry nailed ‘Satisfied’
“Rewind, rewind, rewind,” interrupts the ensemble. The lights warp, the tables turn, the dancers seem to go backwards. Didn’t we just see these moves in the previous song “Helpless,” about how Eliza Schuyler fell in love with Alexander Hamilton?
Yes, you did. And now you’re watching it all over again — this time, from the perspective of her older sister, Angelica Schuyler.
“Satisfied” is an extraordinary “Hamilton” moment, cinematic in its conceit and execution. With a string of brief but potent scenes, the flashback reveals that Angelica also fell hard for Hamilton.
But the cameras that zoomed in on their palpable chemistry have also caught the enamored face of Eliza. And after some internal turmoil about familial duty and societal expectations, Angelica chooses to break her own heart and introduce Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) to her sister (Phillipa Soo).
The 5½-minute song is visually, lyrically and technically intricate, with Renée Elise Goldsberry at its literal center. The actress, who won the Tony Award for this performance, was part of the original off-Broadway and Broadway casts — who now get to see their work preserved on screen in a film version now streaming on Disney+.
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“There was always so much pressure and anxiety about it until it was over,” Goldsberry recalls about her showstopping moment. “Nothing more powerful than live theater, but what’s beautiful about it being on film is you can take the time to really see how many levels of storytelling are going on.”
Ahead of the “Hamilton” movie’s release, Goldsberry got granular about nailing the number, unpacking its layers and watching herself perform it for the first time.
“Satisfied” is complex in the techniques it demands of its performer. How did you go about learning it?
It was part of the audition, which I wasn’t even going to go to, actually. The line that they put out for people to come in was a Nicki Minaj type, and I just didn’t think anybody would hire me to be that fabulous. I was about to basically say no to myself and not go, but the night before the audition, I listened to the demo of the song, and I was like, “Oh my God, I have to know what he’s saying so, so fast; I have to go home and have this song on my lips.”
So, the way I learn lines is an understanding of the thought process; that’s why I’m good at playing a lawyer who says rational arguments and bad at playing a doctor who says all this medical jargon I don’t understand. I did that old thing I used to do when I was a kid, where I kept rewinding over and over and over again to learn a lick. And then, by the grace of God, I just suddenly got it.
I went into that audition and I did it once. After a couple questions, [director] Tommy [Kail] slid a glass of water over to me before I did it again. Then they gave me that amazing beast of a song, and I had that awesome but very daunting responsibility of being worthy of it. I still struggle with that. Lin told me on the phone the other day, they were more protective of that song than anything else. Even watching it on film, I’m still like, “Am I worthy of this great, wonderful moment?”
What is the most difficult component of performing this song?
There are things that are technically challenging about that number: on top of the words, there’s the movement and the fact that we’re doing the previous number in reverse the whole time. It was a lot of things to juggle, but that was never hard, that was all intellectual. Even the rap was relatively easy. The most challenging part to sing is that final toast.
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That’s surprising. Why?
This is an extremely well-written song. Every word is crafted to analytically take this woman on an emotional, life-altering decision for these three lives. That decision was such a monumentally painful and beautiful thing to do that by the time I’d get to that moment in which she makes that decision, I was so devastated that it was hard to sing that toast. She’s conflicted because, clearly, she wants to stay around this guy, she recognizes his brilliance, but she gets that Eliza is the one. So I imagine this woman having to give this toast to this community, in spite of the pain she felt.
I was always worried that somehow or another, I wouldn’t be able to live up to the brilliance of the end of that song because emotionally, I was just trying to manage it. It took me maybe until Broadway to feel OK about it.
How did you eventually do that?
I came to understand the love triangle, the focus of which is not Alexander Hamilton — it’s Eliza. The song values sisterhood over romantic love. That beauty would sway me by the end of the song to make that choice every night, not because this character was so big and wonderful that she could choose it, but because she knew that’s what Eliza — who is goodness and strength — would do in this situation.
I heard somebody say once that the first act is the act that the younger people understand, because it’s the bravery of the revolution and, you know, all the falling in love! And the second act is the act the older people understand, with all the loss and the battles that aren’t on the field but in the mind and in these political games.
I totally agree with that, except for this one moment of “Satisfied.” It’s in the first act, but it’s this woman who, within one song, has to fall madly in love and give it up for another, more important love. She makes this mature, wise choice without the benefit of a lifetime. My hope is that the people who see this movie will recognize that generosity in letting go, and how much there is to gain by loving in the hardest ways.
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What came to mind while watching “Satisfied” in the movie?
Seeing it from the audience’s point of view for the first time, I realized there was a whole ‘nother level of storytelling that was going on, separate from me. I mean, Howell Binkley’s lighting design!
And Andy Blankenbuehler’s brilliant choreography, which I could always only see in my peripheral vision. It’s a huge number with the entire company onstage just killing it and basically turning back time with their bodies, and I’m standing in the middle, talking out like a deer in the headlights to the audience about a burst of things that I have to grapple with immediately. I’m very grateful that he made my job much easier.
Was there a movement that was tricky to master?
Chris Jackson [who plays George Washington] and I, we have a little [dance move] that we do, but I’m not looking at him. It happens during “Helpless” first, and then when we do it again, I’m rapping and looking out at the audience. So I had to trust that he wasn’t going to step on my dress!
The whole company is trying to take care of me because of that really fast rap. Someone has to turn me, someone has to take away the glass, all this stuff has to happen but at the same time, it’s like, “Leave Renée alone because she has to do the rap!” It was always funny whenever anything would go wrong in that moment because people would feel so bad.
This song is long and lyrically dense. Any tips for those at home trying to conquer it?
The trick for any fast rap is marking when to breathe, and then as you’re doing it, just reminding yourself, “I have to stop and breathe here, and then I’m good. This is how long I have to go before I breathe again, so if I don’t stop here and breathe, I will not make it.”
Because sometimes you don’t breathe just because of what happened before; sometimes you need a breath to make it as you continue, sometimes you breathe for how far you have to go, how far ahead there still is. I think that’s also the bigger life lesson: recognize when you need to stop and breathe.
The Tony-winning stage sensation “Hamilton” is available for home viewing on Disney+. Director Thomas Kail details the process of preserving the original Broadway production on screen.
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