ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Tamar Greene, 33, was born and raised in Rochester. He went to School of the Arts, then attended Monroe Community College, then the State University of New York at Oswego, then to the Eastman School of Music, where he was a William Warfield Scholarship recipient.
At both of those schools, he majored in computer information and technology, before he started to take singing more seriously at Oswego.
After portraying “George Washington” in the Chicago run of “Hamilton,” he’s taking that role to Broadway, tonight.
How are you feeling about the premiere or the debut, rather in New York?
I’m good, man. I’m excited to share this here. I’m excited my parents are here and I’m excited to be back in the city.
I’m happy to be with friends, and family, and share this story and this blessing with this world.
Where did your passion for singing and acting come from?
Well, I come from a musical family. My parents made sure we were all involved in some sort of musical activity.
My dad is a DJ, I had a store — a record shop — my mom played piano, and sang as well.
What was your first play and acting experience?
I’d say at School of the Arts. I think the first thing was “All Nights Struts,” which is like a SOTA Singers group, almost like a glee club, where we performed, tapped, and learned to dance.
Can you remember a moment when you knew that this is something you wanted to explore?
I was a pianist first. I didn’t sing young, but as a pianist as a kid, I always knew it was something I was passionate about, something I really wanted to do, but I didn’t know what it meant to have a career doing something like that.
But I knew that I just loved it, and I didn’t want to do anything else. That’s all I did.
So when did you start taking singing seriously?
I started taking singing more seriously in high school a little bit… Miss Watson at SoTA really kicked me into doing into a little bit of vocal stuff I would say, because I wasn’t really a singer like that.
But I was in choir, and I did those things, had fun with with my friends, but I wasn’t a “singer” still, but I looked up to certain people in my class… But (I said), “that’s not me, I’m not a singer.”
I would say when I went to college, that’s when I really started to shifting, when I decided I was going to be a music major, and another teacher, Todd Graber at SUNY Oswego, basically said that I had to take lessons, I had to be a major of some sort, even enough I started there as a computer information systems major.
I thought: “Well, I’m guess I’m going to do this.”
I’ve heard this before, so I guess I’m going to see what happens.
What about his pitch made you realize you had to kick it into gear?
At that point, I had put music on the backburner.
I was at MCC, and when I was there I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. I actually got into SUNY Fredonia, but I just had to figure out what it meant to be a musician, and how you can do that realistically. I was accepted there in piano performance, it wasn’t what I wanted to do then.
But I was looking into computer information systems, and tried to figure out what I was going to do in a computer-related field. I put music to the side, thinking it was just going to be for fun.
And at MCC, I started seeking out the music department, and I just wanted to see what was there. I started adding music classes, and choir.
I did the same thing at SUNY Oswego, and when I got there, I found myself doing the same thing.
I thought I had been running away from this music thing for a while, so now I’m just open to whatever is put in front of me.
Talk to me about the first couple years after school, trying to strike it out as a professional musician.
Big question, big question.
I got a job with Blackboard, online learning. I started working there as a team captain, and doing all kinds of stuff there.
I was also doing stuff on the side, teaching. I spent a year doing mostly Blackboard, actually.
But through Todd Graber’s guidance, I wanted to get my master’s.
Someone had told me at one point, if you take a break, you’re not not going to back. And so when someone tells me I can’t do something that kind of pushes me to do that thing, but I knew I needed a break.
So I took the break, and I was very determined to like go back to school. So with Todd’s help, I started looking, and I fortunately got into Eastman, you know, right there in Rochester, one of the biggest schools in the country for music, especially classical music, also jazz.
And so I went there and got my master’s degree in classical vocal performance and literature. I had so many people I looked up to.
I thought it was going to be opera, but it shifted over time. After that I was teaching a bunch performing some opera stuff, classical stuff.
I could talk for an hour about this. But basically I stumbled across a bunch of different art forms, and I decided that musical theater was where I was going to be for a little bit and give that a try.
You’ve done so much before this, but can you tell us about that Chicago production, how you landed that, and then talk to me about playing the role of George Washington in Chicago.
I love Chicago dearly and that was there in 2018 in the summertime. This show Hamilton is, has, is huge, right? Everybody knows it’s huge, but I saw it for the first time in 2015 the previews — I believe it was June or July of 2015 — and I actually won the lottery.
At that time the show wasn’t huge yet. It was, you know, it was big and you know, obviously, but it wasn’t huge yet.
I was just walking by with my girlfriend, and it was like: “Oh, let’s see what show was happening right now. I’ll try to win the lottery.”
And, uh, I went in and put into the lottery of this show, whatever it was, Hamilton, I guess that’s what they call it. You know, like that was my mood at the time. And I won the lottery and I was way more excited about the fact that I won a lottery in general.
I remember sitting in that seat, I was sitting in the front row, I was sitting a couple rows in front of Joe Biden and I was like, “wow, people are in here.” These, this is okay, cool. Let’s see what’s happening.
There have been other hip hop musicals at that time, but in my opinion they weren’t true to hip hop, and they went a little bit more musical theater side. I love musical theater too, so there’s nothing against that.
But this show, I remember sitting in the front row there and I was like overwhelmed with emotion and feeling and I had never experienced anything like that before in musical theater.
I felt this like immense pride to be sitting there hearing all these references that probably most people in that theater didn’t know: like Beyonce… And all these different hip hop references.
I was just like overwhelmed with emotion seeing my people on stage. People of color in lead roles that didn’t have to play anything degrading, or like a slave thing, or anything like that. Just being strong lead actors and actresses. It was very emotional time.
I remember sitting there thinking like this is a show that’ll show my family why I love to do what I do. From that moment on, I needed to be in the show. It took me two years of auditioning, and waiting in long lines and getting called back for things.
I was originally in (others and) Madison a bunch. That’s really what I wanted at the time actually, and it wasn’t quite working out with casting. We knew something wasn’t quite right. They added Jefferson to my packet like the second year. And again, it wasn’t quite right. Then when he finally had it, George Washington to my audition packet, things started settling and feeling right.
I got that when I was on tour with another show. I was flying in on Mondays to do my audition in New York city and it was quite a lot, but I got it done, made it happen.
I’m very passionate about that, about the show, and very fortunately it got that call. Actually I was on vacation in Australia when I got the call from my agents that, uh, I wanted to be George Washington and the Chicago company of Hamilton and I was very excited.
So it’s been a great ride. It’s great team. The team is incredible, like Lin Manuel Miranda, but the creatives, they are just incredible. Jeffrey Sellers, a producer, he’s produced all the big shows, ran he’s, he’s done a bunch of stuff and so that team is just a group of great people and I’m honored to be working with them.
You’re doing this, you’re doing the production in Chicago, then you get the call to go to New York. Tell me about that call. How did it feel?
I was in Chicago doing the show in Chicago. I’ve expressed my interest that Jeffrey Sellers came again, the producer came to the show. He came with a show in Chicago and told us in person. We had heard that it was going to close. We had already heard that before.
He himself came, flew there, see the show and I have a meeting before the show, and get us all together and tell us in person that the show was closing.
I really appreciated that. I really respect him for always doing that. He always shows up for different things we’ve had. He said: “It’s closing January 5th.”
He said, you know, you guys are in the family, so if you’re interested in doing one of the other companies, let us know. So I had my agents reach out and say, “I’m definitely interested. I really enjoy this, this team and this family.
We made sure that they knew that and we moved forward, and doing it on other auditions, and getting ready for other things.
I believe it was July 31st cause I don’t call out a bunch, but this one time I had to call out this one particular day because I was ill. It happened to be that evening that I called out that my agents called me and told me that they wanted me to be the George Washington in New York… And I cursed at him. Definitely.
July 31st, you know, so that was a long time ago. And you see, I just made that announcement like two days ago. So, yeah, very, very, very great feeling.
In the time that you’ve been playing George Washington, what have you learned about the experience of playing a role like that or you know, just in life in general?
I learned that George Washington is a real person. He’s always known as that first president, but this show dives into that a little bit more.
This show is about Hamilton, but they drop little seeds of knowledge, cluing you into what George Washington went through, and who he was. You see all of this: all of his failures, and all of his struggles, and things he’s gone through.
If you’re an actor, a good actor, you do your research. I discovered all of his like failures actually, you know, we only know him for his wins, but he’s only there because of his failures.
He’s only successful because of that. I was able to really connect with that personally and become be a better actor through that. You have to connect.
I would say like acting is not pretending to be somebody, it’s being yourself in different circumstances. So you have to connect with that character no matter what, you know, villain or whatever.
I learned that I also more technically learned what it takes to sing. You do a show eight shows a week, and the amount of stamina, and the awareness that you have to have, and mastery of your instrument.
I’ve gotten to a point where I can critique myself, judge myself, teach myself, and know what to do to get through, and make it through eight shows a week.
I’m very blessed to do a long running show so that I can continue to do that every three months, and check into myself or every a hundred shows, and checking again…
I’ve grown as an artist through that, and as I get deeper and deeper into this character. So I’m excited to do that again in New York City.
All right, Three Big Picture questions for you. Of course, being a Rochester native can answer this question beautifully. What do you think about Rochester and the Rochester community that makes it such a good place for cultivating artists and creating original art?
Rochester there is so many outlets to go perform, or connect with other people. I started taking lessons at like Hochstein, and I’ve met several different great teachers there who guided me.
I love Rochester because of that, and because they bring so many artists into the town. I remember seeing Herbie Hancock, which is one of my favorite pianists.
There is the Fringe Festival, and all sorts of festivals where people can come together, and do a new show or do what have you. They just had so much going on there, and it’s great to see it.
I wish when I was younger I had more time to really appreciate those things. Having those opportunities is what it takes to get you exposed to other thing, and expand your mind.
I’m very grateful for my education there. I’m sure you know that you’re welcome back anytime.
The next thing, I know you got a big debut tonight, but I’m going to ask you to look ahead just a little bit. If you could accomplish one thing in your musical career and then call it a day, you’d be happy knowing that you accomplished that one thing, what would it be?
Man that is ever changing or changing thing?
I would love to be able to give back and inspire others. I can’t say that there’s one particular thing, but that is something that I’m passionate about.
I love to teach, and I go into schools, and teach masterclasses, and connect with kids who maybe didn’t have the opportunities that I had
I’d like to leave a legacy that way.
I want a reach back down and, teach others or inspire somebody to be themselves. That is something I’m passionate about.
As an older brother — I’m a middle child, but I have a lot of siblings — I was looking at my siblings, and I’m hoping they’re learning at the end of the day.
I’m showing, and leading by example and doing the right thing. And that’s, if that is it, I would be very happy.
Beautiful. I got one more. You kind of led into it for me. If you could give any advice to aspiring artists, what would it be?
Be open. Be open to everything. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. I just told a little bit of my story. I’m a pianist, classical pianist. I love playing Beethoven. I love sonatas. I love Chopin. I was in opera and I love learning languages. I love French. German did a little bit of Russian diction, Spanish absorbing all of that. I went and performed in Italy and uh, classically, but I also have written a different show with a friend of mine, and we performed that show in Italy.
I’ve experienced different cultures. Just be open to receiving everything and absorbing everything. And don’t pigeonhole yourself, but at the end of the day, be yourself. Be yourself.