For most, being cast in a Broadway musical would be hard enough. Landing the lead? Practically impossible. But for Michael Luwoye, the star of the most-expensive and sought-after ticket in Broadway history, becoming Hamilton’s Hamilton was almost an accident.
“I started out auditioning for the roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison,” Luwoye said. “I never thought of playing Hamilton. That was never in my mind.”
Hamilton: An American Musical is a Tony Award-Winning hip-hop/rap sensation that relies on a diverse cast to tell the story of orphaned immigrant, rhetorician, and founding father Alexander Hamilton. With ticket resale prices reaching upwards of $6,000 in 2016, it became the most expensive and exclusive Broadway show in history.
Luwoye spent the better part of a year auditioning for various roles in Hamilton, but when he was called in to audition for the two leads, he assumed that the casting directors were just thinking ahead—looking for prospects for a few years down the line. Little did he know that later that night, while working at a catering gig, he would get a call from his agent telling him that he’d received the coveted role of Alexander Hamilton himself.
“It was a crazy moment and revelation,” Luwoye said. “It’s wild because this upcoming Wednesday will be 21 months of doing the role, and I still have that feeling. I’m still processing that experience.”
Luwoye learned the lyrics for Hamilton’s role in just two weeks, and he was stage-ready in an additional five. But not only can he play the founding father with emotion and precision, he’s also learned the role of his counterpart, Aaron Burr, and in 2016, he famously played both leads on the same day—one at the matinee and the other later that evening.
“One of the hardest parts of this job is maintaining all of my faculties,” Luwoye said. “To perform seven times a week, Wednesday through Saturday, and attempt a high-quality show each time puts a lot of demand on my body.”
Despite the strain, however, Luwoye says he is dedicated to performing to the best of his ability at each show because he recognizes that—due to prohibitive costs and ticket scarcity—many in the audience will only have one chance to see it. And he wants people to see in the show what he sees in it.
Surprisingly that’s not primarily the music. Though Luwoye grew up loving rap and hip-hop, he says it wasn’t the music alone that drew him to the show. He listened through the album for the first time long after it had become popular—not wanting to get swept up in the hype—and he was captivated by the storytelling. When he got to the final song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” he especially connected to the presentation of time.
“It made me think about how I personally believe that time is one of the most, if not the most, important commodities that we have,” Luwoye said. “It’s worth more than money. Money is something we can always get more of, but we can’t get more time. And it’s unknown to us how much time we actually do have.
“Listening to that idea repeated over and over and over again made me think about my own time, and it made me really want to be a part of the show in some way. It made me feel like I had a connection to it before I ever played in it.”
Now that Luwoye has been a part of the show for roughly two years, his connection to it is stronger than ever. He sees similarities between himself and Hamilton, and he loves being able to lose himself in the experience of another person.
“You’re filling your own cup with somebody else’s content,” Luwoye said. “There’s something so attractive about Hamilton, especially the way that he is situated inside of the show, that I love playing him every single night.”
After his Broadway roles as the understudy for both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Luwoye was given the title role in Hamilton’s first national tour. The tour ran for 21 weeks in San Francisco, followed by 21 weeks in Los Angeles. He returned to Broadway in January 2018, where he reprised the role of Hamilton for four weeks.
Since then, Luwoye has held recurring supporting roles in numerous television series, including Bluff City Law on NBC, The Gifted on Fox, The Magicians on SyFy, She’s Gotta Have It on Netflix.