Earlier this month, Michael Luwoye made history by being the first actor to play both of Hamilton’s principal male roles on Broadway: diametrically opposed foes Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Luwoye is currently making his Broadway debut as the Hamilton alternate to Javier Muñoz and the understudy for Burr, played by Brandon Victor Dixon—but how did he book two of the biggest roles on Broadway, especially if he wasn’t even auditioning for them?
Luwoye moved to New York three years ago, after graduating from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. During that time, he mainly booked regional shows—like the world-premiere musical Marley at Maryland’s Center Stage—before making his New York stage debut in the Off-Broadway transfer of Invisible Thread late last year. On the heels of its success, Luwoye continued to land more regional work, which is why, when in January this year he auditioned for the role of Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton, he wasn’t able to make it to New York for the callback.
When he returned to the city in the spring, he decided to audition for the role of Mulligan/Madison again, and this time, he was available for the callback. At his first callback, the casting director asked him to also read for Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, which took Luwoye by surprise. He went with it. “To my knowledge, I thought I was going towards the Chicago cast,” explains Luwoye. “I had no clue that it was actually leading towards Broadway.”
His last callback was the first and last time that he was asked to audition for Hamilton and Burr. Unsure of what had just transpired, he left the studio and went home to prepare for work that night: a catering gig.
“I was putting on my tuxedo and saw that I had a missed call from my agent,” he recalls. “I called him back and…[he said], ‘Congratulations, you’ve booked [the role of] Hamilton.’ He had it on speakerphone, and everybody was congratulating me. It was a lot.”
Luwoye began rehearsals for Hamilton June 14, directly following the show’s history-making victory at the Tony Awards. When he saw the Ham4Ham crowds that week, he began to feel a little overwhelmed. “My first Wednesday, just after the Tonys… [Seeing] all of those people, wrapped around 46th Street, made me a little nervous. I’d never seen anything like it before.”
But Luwoye didn’t have time for nerves. He was thrown directly into the deep end, at first shadowing Miguel Cervantes, who was in rehearsals to play the title role in the Chicago production, and then had one-on-one sessions with associate director Patrick Vassel and associate choreographer Stephanie Klemons, coupled with music rehearsals both in the theatre and in a studio. He played the cast album obsessively, even while he slept.
The hard work paid off and he stepped into the role of alternate August 2, a week earlier than expected. Two months later, on October 4, he went on as Burr. “To be faced with the challenge of trying to execute them both with precision [has] been great,” says Luwoye. “I can’t stop expressing my gratitude to be able to be doing both roles and to be a part of this company.”
Luwoye says that the entire experience is still sinking in for him. “There are a few spots in the show—like after costume changes or right before the last number, where everybody else is onstage and I’m the only person in the Stage Right wing—where it starts to hit me,” he says. “I still feel like this whole experience hasn’t fully hit me. It’s massive. But I have these moments of genuinely feeling like I have the best job in the world right now.
“If you had asked me back in April when I was thinking about auditioning again, I would have said that I was not prepared for this in any capacity. I thought I might be prepared to do this show in two-three years. All of this has been a very expedited experience.”