Bama to Broadway: UA grad Michael Luwoye’s journey to Hamilton

Everybody's gonna know your name...

The Broadway hit Hamilton: An American Musical is on its First National tour. Two University of Alabama theatre and dance graduates are among those taking the stage. One of them is playing the lead character.

Michael Luwoye most recently took to the stage as Alexander Hamilton as an alternate on Broadway during the summer of 2016. It's a role he didn't originally audition for, but as it turned out directors had their eye on him.

“I was auditioning for the role of Mulligan/Madison back when the show was at the public theater, which was off Broadway," Luwoye said.

"Then in January once it moved to Broadway, I was auditioning for it again. And I auditioned for it and I had a callback, where they bring you back to do another audition. I would have call backs but I was unable to make them because of other jobs or other projects I was working on. And that played out for months. Auditioning and calling back, auditioning and calling back, up until around May I believe it was. I started auditioning again for it and they asked me to add another character for it which was the Lafayette/Jefferson role. And so I auditioned for that once and they started calling me back again for it, and my very last audition was for Hamilton and Burr. I did that audition and went to my catering job and my agent called me and told that I got the show."

Michael and Sherri bump into Nicholas Christopher, who has performed as George Washington in the show.
Michael and Sherri bump into Nicholas Christopher, who has performed as George Washington in the show.

As for what he was feeling when he got that call, “I don’t have words it,” Luwoye said. “Honestly I was like what? I was sort of like disbelief.”

Luwoye said almost immediately after the call he realized, “I got a lot of work to do.” The work involved running through audition material. “Things I had known at the time from the album just running through those lyrics because I knew I had a lot of work in a short amount of time.”

That discipline and drive is something many of the successful students from the University of Alabama Theater and Dance Department identify with. That’s why it is not surprising that a fellow graduate Desmond Nunn is touring with Hamilton as a swing in the musical.

“Everybody in some way presents with some talent, but what happens when talent is not enough. Discipline is what helps prepare you and enrich your talent so that’s how I look at discipline.”  University of Alabama Professor and Dance Director Cornelius Carter, who is also Artistic Director of the Alabama Repertory Dance Theater, is not at all surprised by the success of Michael Luwoye or any other student from the Theatre and Dance Department. “It’s called having the expectation for your students. Once you set the expectation when they come in the door that’s our expectation.  It is for them to succeed and perform at the highest level.”

Bill Teague is the Chair of the University of Alabama Theater and Dance Department.  He credits a general upgrade of students coming into the program with the success of those who graduate and go on to professional careers.

“So many of our students are coming from out of state we still have a great deal of students who are from in state particularly the Huntsville area which has a great Arts program up there.  But with the general upgrading of our incoming students we’ve benefitted from that too.  So we have a lot of presidential scholars a lot of our students are coming in with a lot of high school experience coming from big art schools in Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston.  So it’s just like the computer.  Better in, better out.  Our incoming students are better now.  It’s not just the quantity.  Both the quality and quantity have gotten better too.”

"Once you get into this space it’s a different thing because you know what you’re about to do...” - Michael Luwoye

University of Alabama students are seeing success on stage and behind the scenes.  Teague said, "We do have a number of students, of course, everybody talks about Michael Luwoye and Hamilton.  Another student who just joined the Hamilton cast that Michael will be with. (Desmond Nunn) We had the student who had the lead in Kinky Boots for several years, who just left and joined the company of Something Rotten, a show that just opened a couple of weeks ago in New York.  He went directly into another Broadway show.  We have several other students who are coming into Broadway shows.  Have been in Broadway shows and not just those, National Tours.  Every Disney Tour that’s out now has a UA grad in it, both backstage and out on stage.  So our technical students are achieving like our acting students are.”  According to Teague, “there is a real cache now. And it’s not just Broadway, Sanequa Martin Green has one of the leads in Walking Dead and a new show that will be on CBS Star Trek Discovery. She will be the first African American leader of the starship enterprise. We’re very happy about that, but she will be the commander of the starship enterprise but will still be on Walking Dead."

That gets us back to Michael Luwoye who got a shot at Broadway and took it. A product of Huntsville’s Academy for Academics and Arts, Luwoye says he didn’t get serious about theatre as a career until his junior year in college.  He said, “the summer of my sophomore year right before my junior year I did an apprenticeship at this theater in North Carolina called Flat Rock Play House and that was the turning point for me. That's when I started feeling like I could actually do this as a career.”  And even though he decided to pursue it he said, “I still didn't even want to move to New York though, I had Cornelius and other professors had to prod me to actually move to New York. I took their advice, we did our showcase here and it's worked out.”

The University of Alabama does a showcase where students work Off Broadway every other summer for one month. The next showcase is in 2018. Teague said, “we do our show at the beach every summer this will be our 14th year at Gulf Shores. We do a show for the entire month of June; 6 nights a week that was started with our musical performances. Next year will be our 15th year anniversary.”

Parents need not fret over their students choosing theatre and dance as a major at the University of Alabama.  Michael Luwoye said, “It’s a realistic concern. I know that I got that from my parents as well but sometimes you just have to take the risk. I really do believe that you have to just take the risk sometimes actually pursuing something what you want to do.  Because how often do you get a chance to do that, really?  How often do you get a chance to just pursue what you want to do you in this life?  A lot of times you follow a cookie cutter way of doing things, you don’t get a chance to say this is who I am this is what I do and I do it well. If you get that opportunity and you get that inner voice telling you to do it, do that thing.”

Young, Scrappy and Hungry

There’s a million things we haven’t discussed, but just you wait, you can watch the full interview with Michael Luwoye here.

You’ll Be Back(stage)

Michael takes us backstage so we could get an idea of what it’s like each night coming into the theatre. You can see his demeanor change when talking about the energy you feel just offstage. “Once you get into this space it’s a different thing because you know what you’re about to do,” says a smiling Michael.

The Room Where it Happens

Michael’s tour of the Richard Rodgers Theatre continues. But this time we end up standing on top the marquee. It’s a location he says he’s never been before.

Look Around, Look Around

As they continue the backstage tour of Hamilton, Michael shows us “The Wall.” You can see just a small handful of the people that have signed the wall after seeing the show.

Willing to Wait For It

Like so many others, I faced the endless uphill climb of trying to get a ticket to the show. I took my shot at the last minute cancellation line to get a ticket. And you just never know who you might meet!

Sky’s the Limit

Michael is a graduate of the University of Alabama Theatre & Dance Department. Check out a few other grads from the school who are working professionally. That even includes someone who will be traveling with Hamilton on its first National Tour with Michael.

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What’d I Miss?

And finally, here are a few helpful links to keep you up to date with Michael and Hamilton. Plus you can hear the original cast perform all the songs from the show.

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