FROM CHO­RUS GIRL TO LEAD­ING LADY

Emmy Raver-Lamp­man, the Cin­derella of the hit mu­si­cal, re­calls all the steps that led to this mo­ment.

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - By Jes­sica Gelt jes­sica.gelt@la­times.com

“Have you heard of a show called ‘Hamil­ton’?” Emmy RaverLamp­man’s agent asked her in spring 2015.

The ac­tress had just con­cluded the na­tional tour of “Wicked” in Los An­ge­les. The hype sur­round­ing Lin-Manuel Mi­randa’s off-Broad­way mu­si­cal was just reach­ing the Left Coast, but Raver-Lamp­man didn’t know much. The pro­duc­tion was adding two cast mem­bers to the en­sem­ble for its Broad­way de­but in Au­gust, her agent told her. Would she like to au­di­tion?

“I was like, ‘Sure, I don’t have a job,’ ” re­calls Raver-Lamp­man, sit­ting in the plush cock­tail lounge Dirty Wa­ter, on the ground floor of Twit­ter’s San Fran­cisco head­quar­ters on Mar­ket Street.

The next thing she knew, she was a part of the cast that orig­i­nated what be­came a Tony Award­win­ning smash on the Great White Way and a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non beyond. Two years later, she has as­cended from un­named back­ground player to An­gel­ica Schuyler, a star­ring role in the tour­ing pro­duc­tion set to open Wed­nes­day at the Hol­ly­wood Pan­tages.

Hers is a story of happy ac­ci­dents. Hard-work­ing cho­rus girl per­se­veres, serves as an un­der­study, makes tough de­ci­sions and emerges tri­umphant at the top of the heap.

“Never in a mil­lion years did I know — no one did, but es­pe­cially me — what this show would be­come,” Raver-Lamp­man says. “I had never heard the mu­sic. I didn’t even re­ally know what it was about. So I was truly fly­ing blind into this cloud.”

A candy-col­ored dream cloud. In a lit­tle un­der a year, RaverLamp­man and the cast of “Hamil­ton” had won a Grammy, per­formed at the White House and met Bey­oncé. This was all be­fore the record-set­ting 16 Tony nom­i­na­tions and 11 wins (in­clud­ing best mu­si­cal) in 2016.

Also be­fore the Tony nom­i­na­tions: an ag­o­niz­ing de­ci­sion. Raver-Lamp­man chose to leave the “Hamil­ton” en­sem­ble on Broad­way to star in the “SpongeBob SquarePants” Nick­elodeon mu­si­cal in Chicago, where she played Pearl Krabs.

“I re­mem­ber writ­ing my res­ig­na­tion email to Lin and cry­ing on the couch,” she says, de­scrib­ing “SpongeBob” as a pas­sion project. “Some­times as an artist you have to fol­low your gut.”

This sen­ti­ment has served the ac­tress well in her 28 years. She was asked back to “Hamil­ton” when a sec­ond pro­duc­tion of the mu­si­cal opened in the Windy City, and she com­pares the tra­jec­tory of events ear­lier in her life to a snow­ball rolling down­hill, pick­ing up speed and bulk as it goes.

Born in Nor­folk, Va., RaverLamp­man was a loud kid. When she threw tem­per tantrums, the neigh­bors across the street could hear her. She fre­quently stood on the cof­fee ta­ble belt­ing out songs.

“We’ve got to do some­thing with her,” her mother said. “She sings all the time.”

The fam­ily’s so­lu­tion was to en­roll her for high school in the con­ser­va­tory-style Gov­er­nor’s School for the Arts, which has fun­neled a good num­ber of stu­dents onto Broad­way. From there she au­di­tioned for — and re­ceived early ac­cep­tance to — Mary­mount Man­hat­tan Col­lege in New York.

Her first pro­fes­sional theater job came her sopho­more year, when she was cast in “Chil­dren of Eden” at the As­to­ria Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter — and that snow­ball she calls her life re­ally started rolling.

It just so hap­pened that the chore­og­ra­pher for “Chil­dren of Eden,” Chris­tine O’Grady, was also the as­so­ciate chore­og­ra­pher for the re­vival of “Hair” that had just won the Tony on Broad­way. “Hair” was about to go on tour, and O’Grady told Raver-Lamp­man she should au­di­tion. She did, and she booked the gig.

She left school her ju­nior year and went on tour for 16 months, all the while tak­ing classes re­motely.

“We were in D.C. dur­ing fi­nals and I was tak­ing this HIV-AIDS bi­ol­ogy class, and I re­mem­ber be­ing on­stage and think­ing about all th­ese deadly dis­eases and stress­ing out while run­ning around try­ing to be a hip­pie,” Raver-Lamp­man says, laugh­ing. “When I think back, that was crazy.”

“Hair” ended up re­turn­ing to Broad­way for 10 weeks, which pro­vided a rare op­por­tu­nity for RaverLamp­man.

“With one fell swoop, I got my Eq­uity card, my first na­tional tour and my Broad­way de­but,” she says. “All with one job. I was like, ‘How did that hap­pen?’ ”

Raver-Lamp­man’s en­thu­si­asm is con­ta­gious. So is her laugh. It comes from deep in­side, just like her voice, and it rings out — ric­o­chet­ing off fur­ni­ture and walls. Her head is shaved, all ex­cept for a dis­tinc­tive swath of tight curls on the top and left side of her head. She has the tini­est sep­tum ring in her nose and a tat­too of what looks like a mu­si­cal note be­hind her right ear. Th­ese de­tails give the im­pres­sion of a fierce free spirit, which her love of travel backs up.

Raver-Lamp­man says she has vis­ited more than 50 coun­tries. Much of that travel was done when she was grow­ing up. Her mother is a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion dis­or­ders and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion at Old Do­min­ion Uni­ver­sity in Nor­folk, Va., and her area of ex­per­tise of­ten took the fam­ily on the road. By the time she was 15, RaverLamp­man had lived in the Czech Repub­lic, Ukraine and In­dia.

Re­cent Raver-Lamp­man va­ca­tions have in­cluded Thai­land and a stint in Mada­gas­car as a vol­un­teer build­ing toi­lets.

But back to that “Hamil­ton” snow­ball. When Raver-Lamp­man re­sumed her role in the en­sem­ble of the Chicago pro­duc­tion, she had no idea that the pro­duc­ers were cast­ing for the na­tional tour. When her agent called to say RaverLamp­man could play An­gel­ica Schuyler start­ing in March in San Fran­cisco, the of­fer came as a sur­prise.

Asked why she thinks “Hamil­ton” has turned into such a cul­tural touch­stone, Raver-Lamp­man says that much has to do with the di­ver­sity of the cast.

“That’s what our coun­try looks like,” she says. “It’s not do­ing any­thing that we are un­aware of. It’s just telling a story with hon­est eyes.”

The mu­si­cal, she adds, also echoes what could be said of her own story so far: “a very ac­cu­rate, cur­rent and rel­e­vant de­pic­tion of the Amer­i­can dream.”

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

“SOME­TIMES AS an artist you have to fol­low your gut,” Emmy Raver-Lamp­man says of risks she’s taken, such as leav­ing Broad­way’s “Hamil­ton” for an­other show.

Joan Mar­cus

“NEVER IN a mil­lion years did I know ... what this show would be­come,” says Raver-Lamp­man, right cen­ter, of “Hamil­ton.” She was in the Broad­way ver­sion and is in the tour­ing show.

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