Actress Krystal Joy Brown has made history as the first Black Woman to play Gussie in the Broadway production, "Merrily We Roll Along." She shares her journey to the role, why representation matters and more below.

"Krystal Joy Brown"
Krystal Joy Brown. Image: Courtesy of Julius Stukes Jr.

EBONY: You're the first Black woman to play the role of Gussie on Broadway. How do you feel?

Krystal Joy Brown: Anytime you're the first Black, anything, you feel an enormous amount of responsibility. You're always going to show up and represent. I always want people in the theatre to feel as though they are welcome here. I try to pay homage to the women of that era who were in entertainment, like Eartha Kitt, Diane Carroll, Diana Ross, and Dorothy Dandridge.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of how you landed the role of Gussie?

I saw an advertisement or an article of Daniel Radcliffe doing Merrily, We Roll Along. So I just screen-shotted it and sent it to my reps and four months later, I got an audition. I have to send in a tape because I'm out of town filming something and I got the callback and I got great feedback. They're like, “You are the choice, but you're not here.” The director needs that chemistry. I was like “Well, Damn, I missed it. I don't get it anymore. I'm not going to get the opportunity.” I felt so connected to Gussie. Then three months later, I got a call out of the absolute blue, saying, “Hey, can you come in and audition for Gussie?” So I go in, two days later, [with] two days to prep all this material. We did an hour-long work session with the producers, the director and Jonathan Groff. Two days later, I got the call.

Speaking of Eliza. From Eliza in Hamilton to Gussie, what differentiates the two characters? Was it a difficult adjustment?

Gussie is dealing with the struggle of balancing being a success and being a hard worker and also being the only one. Eliza is balancing being a wife, a mother and someone who's also a part of creating and co-creating history. It's funny because these two women can seem so different, but, I think both of them have the same level of depth, the same level of pain, the same level of joy. They're just expressed extremely differently. It's kind of fun to be able to play people on very opposing ends of the spectrum, but then [I] also always remember that their humanity is always at the center and everyone's vulnerable and deserves sympathy.

Krystal Joy Brown
Krystal Joy Brown. Image: Courtesy of Julius Stukes Jr.

I know you shared before just how much representation matters, but what are you hoping to get out of this when it comes to being the first Black Gussie for this production?

Being the first Black Gussie ever is a huge honor. And it's also a huge responsibility, I always want to bring us into the spaces that feel like we're not allowed. There’s still ground to be broken and barriers to be broken. I always want people to feel as though they're welcomed, and paving the way. My goal is always to give and show the depth and the colors of us because we are extremely vulnerable.

What has been the most rewarding learning experience from your career so far?

Learning to trust myself, trust my instincts and trust my gut. I think it's easy to become insecure and when you're told no, it’s very easy to say. “Okay, where's my Yes? How do I survive this? How do I pick myself up and keep going” and, really acknowledging that I'm stronger than I think I am. We as Black people are really strong and independent, but our vulnerability and our ability to be able to lean on people is essential.