‘Hamil­ton’ ac­tor is one of us

Mi­ami na­tive stars in na­tional tour of me­gahit mu­si­cal com­ing to Fort Lauderdale this week

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel Life - By Rod Stafford Hag­wood SouthFlorida.com

Fergie L. Philippe saw “Hamil­ton” the night be­fore the me­gahit mu­si­cal of­fi­cially opened. That pre­view per­for­mance changed the course of his life. Now, just a year out of col­lege, he is star­ring in the na­tional tour of the Broad­way phe­nom­e­non, play­ing James Madi­son and Her­cules Mul­li­gan.

“I saved up all the money I made over the sum­mer to buy one ticket and see the show,” re­calls Philippe, who grew up in the Mi­ami Lakes and Hialeah area. “I couldn’t be­lieve that some­one was able to im­merse me into a story like that. Ev­ery­thing I wanted to see was in the show. The show is per­fect.”

South Florid­i­ans will judge for them­selves when “Hamil­ton” plays Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts for an un­prece­dented five-week run Dec. 18-Jan. 20.

“Hamil­ton” also will play both West Palm Beach and Mi­ami in the 2019-2020 sea­son.

Hav­ing won 11 Tonys, “Hamil­ton” hype is seem­ingly un­ceas­ing. The mu­si­cal has stayed in the head­lines since it took the en­ter­tain­ment world by storm, first off-Broad­way in Fe­bru­ary 2015 and then on Broad­way later that sum­mer. The an­nounce­ment of the road tours late last year sparked me­dia in­ter­est again across the coun­try, as the two na­tional tour com­pa­nies have played cities such as San Diego, Seat­tle, Dal­las, Kansas City, Hartford, Conn., and Greenville, S.C.

Late last year “Hamil­ton” cre­ator Lin-Manuel Mi­randa sent shock waves through­out the Caribbean when he an­nounced that he will reprise his role as the ti­tle char­ac­ter for a run in Puerto Rico in Jan­uary 2019, the first time he will have done so since he ended his Broad­way run in July 2016. Mi­randa, who stars in the highly an­tic­i­pated movie “Mary Pop­pins Re­turns” this Christ­mas sea­son, an­nounced there will be a film ver­sion of “Hamil­ton,” al­though no tar­get re­lease date was con­firmed.

The show about Found­ing Fa­ther Alexan­der Hamil­ton first got ma­jor cov­er­age when Mi­randa chose a mul­tira­cial cast to de­pict white his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. In New York and with sub­se­quent pro­duc­tions in Los An­ge­les, Chicago and now Lon­don, many of the cen­tral char­ac­ters — Hamil­ton, Thomas Jef­fer­son, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton and even Hamil­ton’s killer, Aaron Burr — are por­trayed by ac­tors of color. As with his mu­si­cal “In the Heights,”

Mi­randa filled his score for “Hamil­ton” with hip-hop rhythms and rap-in­fused mu­si­cal num­bers.

“I grew up lis­ten­ing to ‘In the Heights,’ ” Philippe says dur­ing a Fri­day af­ter­noon tele­phone in­ter­view. “Ev­ery­one in Mi­ami went in­sane with ‘In the Heights,’ whether they were into the­ater or not.”

Philippe (who was born in New York City but moved with his fam­ily to Mi­ami soon after) took classes at Mi­ami’s African Her­itage Cul­tural Arts Cen­ter and the New World School of the Arts be­fore grad­u­at­ing from North Carolina’s Elon Univer­sity in 2017. Here is more about the 23-year-old in ex­cerpts from a Q&A.

What are some of your fa­vorite places that you just can’t wait to re­visit?

I’m re­ally ex­cited to go to Ur­ban [Mi­ami Cui­sine] restau­rant in Mi­ami and Le­cap, which is a Haitian restau­rant in Lit­tle Haiti. I want to go to the New World School and the African Cul­tural Arts Cen­ter where I took classes. Those are some of my fa­vorite places.

Where did you hang out here in SoFlo?

The house. I was not hang­ing out any­where. Be­fore high school I wasn’t the most so­cia­ble. I had a hard time mak­ing friends. My par­ents pre­ferred I didn’t go out of the house too of­ten. I was home watch­ing TV or movies.

When did you first de­cide to be an ac­tor?

There was never re­ally a mo­ment. I was al­ways per­form­ing. When I was a kid I al­ways wanted to be the cen­ter of at­ten­tion.

You grad­u­ated in 2017, and you’re in the tour of the hottest mu­si­cal in the world a year later. What’s that time­line ex­actly?

Yeah, I grad­u­ated in May. I went to [St. Louis] to do “Je­sus Christ Su­per­star,” and then right after that I did “Pa­rade” in Auburn, [New York]. As soon as “Pa­rade” was over I got a call-back for “Hamil­ton.” I will never dis­credit my hard work or my work ethic, but there is an el­e­ment of luck that you can’t ex­pect or pre­dict. I booked my dream tour … It’s a very rare and crazy hap­pen­stance.

Do you re­mem­ber what you were feel­ing that first time you saw “Hamil­ton” on Broad­way?

It was so heart­felt, so ex­cit­ing and kind of dan­ger­ous. And also beau­ti­fully staged. Ev­ery­thing about “Hamil­ton” is per­fect. I thought it was a per­fect show. I had never seen an ex­pe­ri­ence on Broad­way that moved me the way that show did that night. I felt in my spirit that this is what you are sup­posed to do. I didn’t ex­pect it to be so soon. That’s the uni­verse and God.

What do you think pro­duc­ers and the cre­ative team saw in you that made them know you were right for the part?

I wish I knew. I think they saw some­one who was pas­sion­ate about the show — a per­son who un­der­stands its func­tion in the world. They saw some­one who is deeply con­nected with it and con­nected with it in­stantly, some­one so young, some­one with no credit be­fore­hand.

This is your first tour, so how have you been sur­viv­ing it?

You know … the big­gest thing for me is the main­te­nance of health. This morn­ing I just got an MRI for my shoul­der be­cause I in­jured it in the show. I just re­spect and lis­ten to my body. And I need to un­der­stand to meet it where it’s at and not push it to do what it does not want to do. So I have to get enough sleep. Do stretch­ing. And my men­tal health, giv­ing my­self the space to be able to func­tion.

Is there some­thing you do in the show that is maybe over­looked in all the spec­ta­cle and stage­craft that you would like to high­light for your home­town?

Mul­li­gan is such a big char­ac­ter, so loud [that] I don’t think there’s much he can miss. But I talk to peo­ple who say they’ve seen the show two or three times and they say it’s a dif­fer­ent show ev­ery time, there’s so much hap­pen­ing in this show.

You have to beat box and rap the song “York­town,” right? I read that you were think­ing of the rap style of Busta Rhymes.

When I was grow­ing up in Mi­ami, rap is just a part of Mi­ami cul­ture, but I didn’t iden­tify with that. I was more a punk rock kid and metal and things like that. After see­ing the show, I thought … if [I’m] go­ing to be in the show, I need to un­der­stand the cul­ture. So I did a lot of re­search and for­tu­nately by the time we started re­hearsal I felt com­fort­able enough to fake it enough for the peo­ple lis­ten­ing to think that I had been lis­ten­ing to rap all my life. Specif­i­cally I looked at the Chris Brown song “Look At Me Now” and the Busta Rhymes part. It’s very fast. I spent two months in col­lege just work­ing on that in case that mo­ment ar­rived where some­one said, “Can you rap some­thing for us?” Me­moriz­ing that rap was so hard. It was so crazy. There were so many days where I said, “What am I do­ing. No one is go­ing to ask me to rap.”

I saw in some of your so­cial me­dia that there’s been some sort of is­sue at times when you come out of the stage door fol­low­ing a per­for­mance. What’s that about?

Yeah, I made a cou­ple of posts. I think that in the ex­cite­ment and hype of the show some peo­ple, un­in­ten­tion­ally be­cause I don’t think peo­ple have any ill will, cross some bound­aries. They say some­thing that is a lit­tle rude. I’ve seen peo­ple get pushed or kids get pushed. That’s one of the things about “Hamil­ton,” so many peo­ple have paid so much money for tick­ets and waited so long, it some­times builds up and boils over. With love in my heart, I just ask them to re­spect and love each other.

“Hamil­ton” runs Dec.

18-Jan. 20 at the Broward Cen­ter, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Show­times are 8 p.m. Tues­days-Satur­days; 7 p.m. Sun­days;

1 p.m. Sun­days and 2 p.m. Wed­nes­days (start­ing Dec.

26) and Satur­days. Tick­ets cost $141-$650. To or­der, call

954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCen­ter.org.

JOAN MAR­CUS

Fergie L. Philippe (cen­ter, far right) stars as James Madi­son and Her­cules Mul­li­gan in the na­tional tour of “Hamil­ton,” com­ing to Fort Lauderdale Dec. 18-Jan. 20. He is joined cen­ter stage by other cast mem­bers Eli­jah Mal­comb (from left), Joseph Mo­rales and Kyle Scatliffe.

HAMIL­TON

Fergie L. Philippe, who grew up in the Mi­ami Lakes and Hialeah area, plays James Madi­son and Her­cules Mul­li­gan in the na­tional tour of “Hamil­ton.”

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