Hamilton cast members visit UMSL campus, meet local high school students

Hamilton cast at UMSL

E. Desmond Lee Community Artist in Residence Brian Owens (far right) guided the campus community event with students from three local high schools in attendance to meet the Hamilton cast members (seated from left) Jennifer Locke, Raymond Baynard, Jennifer Geller, Austin Scott, Amanda Braun and Chris De’Sean Lee. (Photos by Marisol Ramirez)

The fandom was real at the University of Missouri–St. Louis last week when more than 100 local high school and university students burst with cheers and tears of excitement during an exclusive Q&A with six cast members from Hamilton.

The musical production in town this month at The Fox Theatre has struck a beat in St. Louis with its hip-hop take on history and its diverse casting of roles traditionally played by white men.

Hamilton cast

Students from McCluer, Hazelwood and Ritenour high schools whooped and cheered as the Hamilton cast greeted them Thursday at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on UMSL’s campus.

With such inspirational talent in town, two of UMSL’s Des Lee Collaborative Vision and Community Engagement scholars Brian Owens, the E. Desmond Lee Community Artist in Residence, and Michael Smith, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Music Education, jumped at the chance to organize a Lunch and Learn at UMSL’s Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center with some of the cast, including:

Austin Scott who plays Alexander Hamilton,
Chris De’Sean Lee who plays Marquis de Lafayette,
Raymond Baynard who is part of the ensemble,
Amanda Braun who is a swing,
Jennifer Geller who is part of the ensemble,
and Jennifer Locke who is part of the ensemble.

Students for McCluer, Hazelwood and Ritenour high schools attended the Thursday afternoon event alongside UMSL students studying music, theater and history.

Owens kicked off the discussion, asking about the innovative nature of a hip-hop musical.

“You think it would be corny or cheesy, but it’s the complete opposite,” Lee said. “Here I am listening to this good music and recognizing bits of Tupac, Biggie and Ja Rule in there.”

Lee shared that his role as Lafayette has him rap 13 words every 2.9 seconds, so sometimes – and understandably so – his French accent wanes a bit.

Hamilton cast Q&A

Students lined up after the planned questions to ask the cast a few questions of their own. Here, Austin Scott, who plays Alexander Hamilton, answers one young student’s question about professional stage managers and their role behind the scenes.

The cast also answered questions pertaining to the diversity of the cast, many speaking to the beauty they find on stage and in the audience when people buy 100 percent into the diverse perspective.

“No one questions that Thomas Jefferson is this person of color,” Geller said. “And why should they? Yes, the role is played by a black man. Do you have problem with that? I don’t.”

“Look at this beautiful rainbow of people right here,” Scott added. “This show has provided a platform for people of color and that platform doesn’t say, ‘Wow we look different.’ It’s not about color at all. It’s about speaking to the humanity of us all. It’s about seeing people of color in positions of power and accepting that yeah, a black dude with dreads is Jefferson.”

Along with their commentary on the show itself, the cast offered up words of encouragement for the young students, many of whom are aspiring performers. Advice ranged from understanding that those who push you want the best for you and that performance careers take believing in yourself even when others don’t.

“Trust in the light that was instilled in you,” Baynard said.

Afterward, students lined up to individually ask questions of the cast and share how much Hamilton has meant to them. The final question came from a young girl, Tammy Williams, a McCluer student from Ferguson, who asked how the cast felt performing this show in St. Louis of all places.

“This show is a movement,” Geller said. “It’s why we’re coming to cities like this across the country.”

“We’re lighting the fires,” Scott added. “But what’s great about St. Louis is that the fire’s already been lit here.”

Hamilton is showing at The Fox Theatre until April 22. Tickets are available at fabulousfox.com.

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