Awards & Events

‘Hamilton’ Actor Returns to Aid Howland Dance School

WARREN, Ohio – “Hamilton!” actor Seth Stewart says he knew the show was something special about halfway through its off-Broadway run.

In the 300-seat theater the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical held previews before hitting Broadway, Stewart and others in the cast noticed multiple celebrities in the audience, he recalled.

“But more than that, we felt it,” he added. “We knew onstage that things were happening.”

Stewart, who succeeded Tony Award-winning actor Daveed Diggs in the dual roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, yesterday visited the James Dance & Performing Arts Center in Howland Township, where he studied for several years.

He will headline a Nov. 19 fundraiser at Packard Music Hall to benefit educational programs at the school. The event will feature the Broadway performer being interviewed in an “Inside the Actors Studio” format followed by a workshop. During the program, he plans to share his experiences as an actor and tell kids and adults what to expect and how the industry works.

“I don’t want people to have this false dream but [want to] inspire them at the same time,” he said.

Stewart was exposed to musicals and Broadway early, and trained during summers in New York. He wasn’t initially a “theater kid” — he liked Broadway but loved performing overall – but changed his tune after seeing Joel Grey’s performance in “Cabaret.”

“It took me on a roller coaster,” he remarked. “It changed my perspective and just hooked me.” Although he also played football, he eventually gave up athletics to focus on the performing arts.

Stewart made the 45-minute trip from Kent to the Howland studio five and sometimes six days each week to study. “To me, that time didn’t matter. I was excited to go to class,” he remarked. “Sometimes you have to go farther than you want to to get what you want.”

About two weeks after graduating from high school, Stewart moved to New York, where he studied at Fordham University and its Ailey School, where he had received a partial scholarship. At the same time, he passed on a role with a touring company.

Being able to go to work right out of school “would have been great,” but the show was a non-Equity tour, said Linda James, owner of the studio. Electing to go to school instead of going on tour gave Stewart “a legitimacy” and got him into New York, and he auditioned from there, she said.

Stewart was “way ahead of the curve” as a student, and would always listen to advice, James recalled. “He wouldn’t always take the advice but he always listened,” she said.

“Once he decided to do something, he did it and he did it all the way,” she said. That was even true when he did something he was reluctant to do, such as taking ballet.

“When I finally broke down and did it, it was what changed everything,” Stewart said. “So sometimes what you don’t want to do, what you fear, is the one thing that will allow you to excel.”

Stewart dropped out of college because he didn’t want to go further into debt to continue his studies, and he was aware that a dancer’s longevity was limited.

He got his first big break in 2004, when he was chosen for Madonna’s Reinvention tour. The following year, he began his Broadway career with a part in the revival of “Sweet Charity.” Over the next several years he bounced back and forth between the stage and music videos and tours.

In 2007, he starred in the off-Broadway run of “In the Heights,” when he first became acquainted with Hamilton’s Miranda, who provided music and lyrics for the show. His work on “In the Heights” got him into the ensemble of “Hamilton.” He said he loved how “Hamilton” sparked people’s interest in history, theater and hip hop.

Hype had built for Hamilton by the time the show made it to Broadway, but that wasn’t driving the show’s cast and crew, he said.

“We didn’t do it because of the hype. We did it because we were creating something that had never been done before,” he said.

Although Stewart had served as Diggs’ understudy, that didn’t mean he automatically got the parts of Lafayette and Jefferson when Diggs departed the production last year.

“It took them two months to decide that I was going to take over the role. It’s not normal for any Broadway show to have an ensemble [actor] take over a Tony-Award-winning role,” he recalled. “I just had to prove my worth.” He continued with the show in the dual role for about nine months.

Stewart, who finished with Hamilton six months ago, now is attempting to break into television and film. The 33-year-old actor also reported he has been “writing screenplays like a madman” over the past couple of years, including screenplays for a drama and a superhero film. He also is taking classes and continues to audition for roles in dramas and comedies.

“It all comes down to storytelling,” he remarked.

In addition, he has launched a T-shirt line called “Ohio Changes the World,” and is making a documentary on people who are from or have moved to the state who are doing “inspirational things in the arts and athletics.”

Tickets for the Nov. 19 event are available at Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000, or at the Packard Music Hall box office.

VIDEO: ‘3 Minutes With’ Seth Stewart

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.