By Mira-Rose Kingsbury Lee
The theatre lights of the Richard Rodgers fade to darkness. The buzzing audience quiets as a spotlight appears on the stage. A man, dressed in 18th century garb, strides onto the stage, and begins: “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean…”
In the unlikely event that you don’t recognize it, this is the beginning of “Hamilton” – revolutionary musical, winner of eleven Tony awards and all the praise theatre critics can muster. As the audience erupts into applause, the rest of the revolutionaries join Aaron Burr on stage. Among them is Eddy Lee, the first Asian-American male actor in “Hamilton.” His movements across the stage are uniquely graceful. When I tell him so, he laughs with characteristic modesty. “Oh! Thank you,” he says. “That’s so nice!”
I have the pleasure of having dinner with Eddy between the matinee and the evening show. He’s his typical charismatic self, downplaying his talent with self-deprecating humour and the kindness that he’s known for amongst the cast.
“This guy is so cool,” says James Iglehart, who, despite shining in the role of Lafayette/Jefferson, is better known for his role as the genie in the original Aladdin musical on Broadway.
Eddy plays George Eacker, and is an ensemble swing, meaning he alternates between all six male ensemble parts depending on the night. “It’s a little weird to have a different role to play each night,” Eddy says, “Sometimes I think I’m going to start taking the wrong steps, but it’s worked out pretty well so far!”
No kidding! “Hamilton” is even harder to get a role in than to get a ticket for. So how did Eddy do it?
“Well, I definitely didn’t have your conventional training process! I mean, I started [acting] late in high school- tenth grade, to be exact – and didn’t even start seriously training until four years later, after I graduated college… I just started auditioning, meeting people, going to dance classes, acting classes, and learning anything and everything I could on the jobs I booked.”
It’s simple, but it works! Ask any theater kid at Beacon what the secret is to making a brilliant show and they’ll tell you that it’s hard work.
“I auditioned for [“Hamilton”] thirteen times over two years! Every six months they have an open call that I would always go to. Sometimes I would get called back, sometimes not, but I went to everything I could.”
Hard work indeed.
And what drew Eddy to “Hamilton” in the first place? “The statement of inclusion and diversity, the history of America told by Americans today! The unconventional casting! I mean, this is how I’ve always wanted the theater community to be. It didn’t matter what you were, so long as you could portray a character honestly, and truthfully, and could make people feel – that’s all that mattered,” Eddy explains. “This show means a lot to me on so many levels.”
According to the New York Times, “Hamilton” is embodies a “sense of momentum, of [a] wave that you ride or drown in.” Eddy is a part of that wave.
It’s almost time for him to go back to the theater for the evening performance, but he makes sure to provide one last piece of advice: “Be open to anything! Broadway is great, but there are so many ways to express yourself now that it really depends on what you say and how you want to say it. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this business and you never know what something might lead to. So be open to learning constantly. Be open to broadening your experiences. Be open to being wrong! More often than not, that’s when we learn the most. Acting is a study of life. So experience everything it has to offer!”
I can’t help but notice one thing. As he bounds back to the Richard Rodgers, there’s only one way he’s looking: forward.
Additional Note from the Author:
One of Eddy’s favorite moments in “Hamilton” is when he’s playing Man 3. “During ‘Guns and Ships’, right before Washington’s lyrical segment, one of the ensemble vocal parts barks – literally, ‘woof woof!’ Listen for it! It’ll blow your mind if notice it!”