ELIZABETH, NJ – Last week, as the city celebrated one of its favorite adopted sons Alexander Hamilton with two days of events, it also welcomed home one of its natives, Jon Rua, a performer in the popular musical Hamilton.
In a question and answer format that took place in the Snyder Academy, Rua, who was born in Elizabeth and grew up in Linden, credited his success with what he learned living here. As a son of Colombian immigrants, he knew there wasn’t money for extras like dance and voice lessons, so he learned on his own. “I had a body, so I could dance,” he remarked. “That was free.”
He continued, “You did what you had to do at all costs. I had to keep going because nothing was handed to me except love. That was given. Nothing was going to happen unless I broke my butt. Everyone here knew that, but nobody walked around with their heads down. They always were looking up. Hip-hop is about fortitude and drive and Elizabeth and Linden have plenty of that.”
“It was something compelling for me. I wanted to be in the arts. I am the only member of the cast without a conventional process. I didn’t go to a conservatory or take private lessons.”
Rua calls what he does ‘the grid,’ and describes himself as relentless and driven with one purpose in mind. “I want to trigger human emotion. I am all about facing obstacles and overcoming them. I am going to own my own voice.”
Evidence that Rua hasn’t forgotten where he came from was there in the presence of his high school dance teacher, Barbara Brady, and voice teacher, Howard Whitman, who recalled that Rua has performed in their local theatre, Mystic Vision Players, and has helped with Linden high school productions. “He was just so passionate,” remembered Brady. “He worked so hard to be better.”
Added Whitman, “If there was an area where he wasn’t strong, he would work to make it better.”
Before performing in Hamilton, the Founding Father was just the face on the $10 bill to Rua. He got to know him better on the job. “When I started finding out, I thought this is pretty wild,” he remembered. “How many people we don’t know about that really matter? It reminded me how much my dad had to experience when he came here.
“It is really cool when you realize Hamilton was the first immigrant on a bill. He was a complicated individual who was committed.”
Sounds like Rua has a lot in common with that other talented, but poor boy who sailed from the Caribbean more than 200 years ago and helped to found a country.
Before Rua left, he was presented with a plaque from Mayor Christian Bollwage and Union County Manager Al Faella. The mayor recalled when he saw the musical Hamilton. “I thought, ‘This play is going to win so many awards, if not all the awards.