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Alumnus lands starring role in Hamilton

Kirkland’s run in “Hamilton” began in Chicago.  | Courtesy of Jonathan Kirkland

Jonathan Kirkland was auditioning for another show the day he stumbled upon the open call tryout for the smash hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”

Kirkland is a graduate of the Moores School of Music. After years of improving upon his already-sharp singing skills, Kirkland began looking for work, all the while never forgetting old advice.

“I wasn’t going to go because I thought the open call was just a formality,” Kirkland said. “I called my wife and asked her if she thought I should try out and she told me ‘Well honey, you always say that your full time job is finding work, so go ahead.'”

After signing up for one of the last audition slots of the day, Kirkland auditioned. Two and a half weeks later, he was cast as George Washington and debuted on the first tour of Hamilton in Chicago last September.

First impressions

Jonathan Kirkland began his collegiate career at Michigan State. After graduation, his opera director and UH graduate Melani Helton recommended Kirkland continue his career with Buck Ross, the founder and director of the Moores Graduate School of Opera.

Kirkland auditioned for Buck Ross and the Moores School in 2010.

Ross believes Kirkland’s talent goes beyond his voice toward a more universal element that he saw in Kirkland’s audition and later on in his performances at the school.

“There’s a certain kind of performer star quality that you see, and it wasn’t necessarily vocal, but it was in the way he presented himself and the way he would interact with an audience,” Ross said. “There was just a lot of charm in the way he performed.”

Kirkland was accepted into the school and embarked on the next step of a career that would lead to Broadway. Kirkland soon realized UH was where he belonged.

“Helton was absolutely correct in guessing that the school would be a perfect fit for me,” Kirkland said. “The Moores School offered everything I desired in a graduate program.”

Nicole Woodward, a peer of Kirkland’s at the Moores School, first met Kirkland in 2011 and said she immediately thought he was a warm and inviting person who also helped her refine her talent. Woodward works in the Sarasota Opera.

“Working with him at Moores definitely improved me as a performer,” Woodward said. “Kirkland is a very present performer and it encouraged me to keep my performances active and alive.”

Woodward said she will always remember the night she had dinner with Kirkland and his wife, Jocelyn.

“Jon and Jocelyn are true testaments to how sacrifice, hard work and faith can make your dreams reality,” Woodward said.

Singing successes 

It was a conversation Ross had with Kirkland a year into his tenure at UH that changed the course of his career.

“We were discussing the notion of him going into musical theater instead of opera,” Ross said. “I thought he could be a real and serious leading man in musical theater, whereas his voice was not of the size that is normal for traditional opera singers but sensational for musical theater.”

On top of pursuing his career and honing in on his natural talents, Kirkland also worked on mastering singing multiple genres to become a cross-over artist.

Kirkland said Ross and professor Hector Vasquez were his greatest inspirations while on campus and pushed him in ways he had not imagined, without letting him skate by off his talent.

“They taught me to value hard work,” Kirkland said. “While on campus, I may not have lived up to the work ethic that I’m capable of. I certainly got their message and I learned to enjoy the work and the process of becoming a true artist and living up to my potential.”

The next step

Alumni play a vital role in the Moores School, Ross said; recent alumni making it on the big stage shows the current students that they can make it too.

“It’s a very hard life to be a performer,” Ross said. “For someone to have managed to succeed and hang in there recently is terrific. People need to see that success is possible.” 

Kirkland has connections to Houston beyond UH as well. During his time in Houston, he found a love for the Houston Rodeo and even worked at the Starbucks across from the Galleria after his graduation.

“I absolutely love the Breakfast Klub,” Kirkland said. “Every time I’m back in Houston, that’s my first stop. I also enjoyed the galleria area.”

Kirkland believes it takes a mix of staying true to yourself and perseverance to lead to success for all amateur performers attempting to break through to Broadway and beyond.

“Treat every audition as a chance to grow and enjoy it,” Kirkland said. “Be courageous to go after your dreams and crazy enough not to listen to the doubters. Enjoy the ride and take in every moment.”

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