“I stayed in the audience, a few feet from where Mike Pence was sitting with his family. The whole audience was completely charged on every level of the political spectrum – some were cursing and heckling Pence.”
– Michael Luwoye
Meet Broadway’s new Alexander Hamilton
Story by: Aisling O’Leary
Interview: Michael Williams
Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a new Alexander Hamilton in town. For someone who never initially planned to get into theatre, Michael Luwoye sure has made strides in his unintentional career. Now confirmed as the next Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway show by the same name, it has all been quite the unexpected journey for the young actor. Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, Luwoye was more musically inclined if anything, playing guitar and intending to go to college for music theory and composition. However, when the University of Alabama offered him a highly competitive scholarship in their theatre department, it was an opportunity that seemed to seal his fate.
Moving to New York almost four years ago, he made his New York stage debut Off-Broadway in ‘Invisible Thread’. Nominated for a Lucille Lortel award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical, it was on the heels of this performance that he auditioned for Hamilton. Originally going for the role of Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, the last thing he expected was to be cast as both the alternate to Hamilton as well as the understudy to Aaron Burr. However, as the only cast member to perform these two principal characters in the same day – as Hamilton in a matinee only to reprise the role as Aaron Burr in the evening run – he proved himself more than capable for the task. “I feel like I have something to prove because no one has any clue who I am. I’m still in the shadow of the first three Hamilton’s that have come before me. I don’t look like them, I don’t have their experience – so how do I prove myself to the New York audience in just three hours?”
Trying to prove himself seems to have been a constant hum in Luwoye’s life since moving to the theatre capital. During his first three years in the city, he went through the typical actor’s grind of “going to auditions with big name people, never hearing from them and simply getting burned from continuously trying to establish myself.” But then the opportunity to audition for Hamilton came around and Luwoye knew that “there was a claim of ownership that I hadn’t experienced with any other audition process. The way that I composed myself for this was different from any other at that point.”
As the fourth actor to step in the shoes of this prolific role, what is it exactly that he personally brings to it? “One of the challenges of playing my current role is how to create a human character amidst the phenomenon that is the show. Playing a character who talks about death made me think about my first three years in New York, with its extreme ups and even steeper downs. I modelled a lot of things in the show on these experiences, with the first act in particular drawing from this time. All of those experiences ignited some sort of fire in me that made me feel like I need to continue what I’m doing because I know that if I stop, I’m going to fall in a state of stasis.” It is this determination with his career that especially makes him relate to Hamilton’s character because “the one thing about this man was that he was consistent in his persistence.”
As an historically significant show during a politically turbulent time, Hamilton further solidified its legacy last November by addressing a message to Mike Pence when he went to see the show with his family. Appealing to the Vice President to “uphold our American values” and to “work on behalf of all of us”, how did Luwoye feel about the cast speaking out? “The way it was handled was the right way to do it. We’re in an age where it seems like we’re not heard. The evening Mike Pence came was a very good opportunity for us to say something. I understand the perspective that Pence and his family came just to enjoy a night of theatre but at the same time he is also a public servant whose job it is to listen to the people. For us, to come out with a statement was the best course of action to take outside of silence.”
As an alternate at the time, Luwoye didn’t perform that evening. Instead, he had the unique insight of being one amongst the crowd witnessing the event unfold. “I stayed in the audience, a few feet from where Mike Pence was sitting with his family. The whole audience was completely charged on every level of the political spectrum – some were cursing and heckling Pence; others were loudly applauding him. And I thought, that is America. That’s our audience – that’s what happens often when you go to the show – because not everyone buys into the story. I think that Trump’s response didn’t have a good base, to say what he did. It was incorrect. It’s important to engage with empathy. With this administration it’s hard to articulate that kind of engagement without it being seen as some sort of battle, or a war on words. There’s no real space for listening. And I think it’s because of that that our statement was swallowed up into a misguided firestorm.”
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