Hamilton Original Cast Member Andrew Chappelle on Black Lives Matter, Backstage Eats, and His Mom’s Mac and Cheese
Name: Andrew Chappelle
Location: New York City, NY
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 2 (Andrew; his boyfriend, Paul; and Andrew’s dog, Patti LuBone)
Any eating restrictions? “I’m definitely not the guy asking the waiter what ingredients are in my dish.”
If you’ve ever gotten Hamilton lyrics stuck in your head, just think of how Andrew Chappelle feels. He’s a member of the show’s original cast, who over the span of his five-year career as a standby played 6 roles in the iconic production, from previews at The Public Theater to sold-out performances at the Richard Rogers. Now that’s a lot of lyrics to memorize.
While Andrew officially said farewell to the Hamilton stage last December, the show’s not over — especially now that #Hamilfilm is finally airing on Disney+ on July 3, bringing the performance into living rooms across the country. For Andrew, the timing of the show’s release could not come at a more pivotal moment in our country’s history. After all, we’re in the midst of another revolution as we speak.
We caught up with the effervescent actor while he was spending some time on Fire Island to talk about what the show means to both him and its ardent fans, his most memorable backstage experience, and what he possibly could be eating to get all that energy.
With everything on hold, what have the past few months been like for you?
I spent a large chunk of the quarantine with my mom in Michigan. We haven’t spent that much time together in the last 10 years, so it was really nice. But with everything that has been going on, our time together made me remember a moment we had when I was growing up. There’s something that happens in every Black parent’s life (a moment that they dread) and that’s having to have a conversation with their child of how they interact with the police. I remember just getting my drivers’ license. She had a tone in her voice and I didn’t understand what it was about at the time. She was like, “Look, if you have an encounter, be respectful, keep your hands in view, only speak when spoken to.” I didn’t think it was abnormal; I thought everyone had to follow these rules. I didn’t know she was trying to protect me.
It’s hard because there’s no difference between me and any of the people in the news that have been killed. One positive thing that’s come out of it is that people are taking notice and wanting to make a difference. Probably for the first time in my lifetime businesses, corporations, websites, everyone is taking a stand and standing up for what is right. So I’m actually feeling hopeful for the future.
You spent 5 years of your career on stage immersed in a different American revolution. How did that help you process what’s happening now?
I was actually teaching a [youth] acting class not long ago, and a parent came up to me. She said, “You know, it’s so funny. We’ve seen Hamilton many times, and I’m starting to think of George Washington as a Black man.” What is the difference when we’re talking about humanity? It’s about opportunity and capability. A person of color is just as capable as their white counterpart. Hamilton helps illuminate that. I think that was a really valuable lesson.
Another thing that became shockingly apparent to all of us involved in Hamilton from the very beginning was the attachment that the fans had to all of us individually. It taught me how much responsibility I have with my platforms. When the [Black Lives Matter] protests first started happening, I wasn’t in the city. I was like, how can I participate in this conversation when I can’t physically be there? So I decided to do my due diligence and everyday on Instagram, I share a list of organizations, charities, and GoFundMe pages that need support. Causes that I’m also supporting. I am moved every day with the amount of people who say, thank you for making it so easy, for letting me know how to help.
Andrew is donating to a number of organizations, including Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, and Know Your Rights Camp. See his full list of suggested organizations to donate to here.
Can you take us behind the scenes of what was it like to be a part of the Hamilton cast from the very beginning?
I joined back when it was downtown at The Public Theater. We knew we were doing something special and important but didn’t know how it was going to be received. The excitement for the show since the beginning has been so steady it makes me so happy. Another thing that was amazing about it was the timing of when it came out, at the end of President Obama’s administration. We welcomed them to performances many times. I’ll never forget when Michelle Obama came to see the show back when we were at the Public Theater. I came out of my dressing room to get a soda and there she was. I physically froze. And she saw me and said ‘Come give me a hug! I’m a hugger.” The show at that time felt like an affirmation, things felt right, light, in line. Then in November of 2016 things changed and the importance of the show changed as well. People started coming to the show for different reasons — it almost felt like communion. People at the stage door would tell us “I needed this.”
As Swing, you played so many different roles. Is that record setting? How did you have the stamina?
Girl I wish I could tell you! By now a lot of guys have done it but yes, I was the first to cover that many people. With anything in life, when you’re given an opportunity, you rise to the occasion. I worked tirelessly. I’d wake up really early, take the train down to the theater, memorize lines, learn choreography all day, watch the show, then on the train home I’d have my headphones in and learn the vocal parts. Then I’d have a quick bite of something and repeat.
With a hectic Broadway schedule, what does a day of food look like?
Oh boy, it depends on the day. I am a breakfast person so it’s really important I have a bowl of oats, or bacon and eggs (if I have time), and coffee in the morning. A lot of theater actors are famous for their full days. If the show starts at 8 p.m., I’m up at a commercial audition at noon. I have to walk Patti LuBone, and then squeeze in show rehearsal all before then. You just have to get where you’re going, so if you have time to cook for yourself and bring it — amazing. If you don’t, you spend a lot of time ordering from restaurants nearby.
Where did you fall on that spectrum?
I spent an extraordinary amount of time at the Richard Rogers Theater, and found a great healthy routine for myself. I cooked my meals for the week, nothing really exciting— things that would keep me healthy, keep my costumes fitting. Like a simple protein and a veg, like chicken, salmon, steak, or turkey with broccoli, Brussels, cauliflower, or carrots. That’s basically my diet when I’m doing a show because you don’t want to eat anything heavy or you’ll spend the whole show hating yourself and sweating and it’s a mess. I felt great when that’s what I was doing.
When did you find the time to cook?
You make the time! Tuesday and Thursdays, the show started at 7 PM, so if you don’t have plans after, you can get home by 11. That’s when I’d cook and get myself together. In the moment, it seems a little arduous, but you really do thank yourself when you have healthy meals prepped.
What did you do in between shows?
On certain days, we had 2.5 hours between shows. Lots of actors have their rituals during those breaks. Some think my camp is crazy… I would go to the gym between shows to workout and then shower which makes you feel fresh and easy breezy. I recommend it to anyone. It resets and invigorates the body, I’m telling you. Then you go and have a piece of meat and some vegetables and have another show to do.
How did you find time to get groceries?
Fresh Direct is the most convenient thing for someone on an actor’s schedule. You can order from your bed, backstage, in your dressing room. If I’m doing a matinee and I realize I have no groceries at home for later, I press a few buttons and it’s waiting for me when I get back.
Since you left the show, have your eating habits changed?
Gosh, right now I’m allowing myself to eat whatever I want which is important from time to time. We’ve been grilling lots of hamburgers and hot dogs, and last night we made tortellini from scratch. Back when I was spending a few weeks with my mom, we cooked a lot together. She makes legendary mac and cheese. The sauce is so specific — I always fail when I do it by myself. So when we were sitting there twiddling our thumbs, I was like mommy, teach me how to make the mac and cheese— and I’m going to film it. Now that I’m not with her anymore, I’m going to have to make it myself. But at least I have the video.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to see where the industry opens first. It seems like LA might, so I could go in that direction. I used to think I need to stay put, be in one spot, be established in NY… but that’s why there are airplanes. With this virus, I have to adapt, and pivot, and roll with the punches, so I just want to be malleable and open to change.
Thanks so much for talking with us, Andrew!
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form