When the call came from his agent, Tyler McKenzie ’13 danced and celebrated for a few hours, then picked up the phone again. “I had to call back to see if it was real,” McKenzie said.
It was real – McKenzie would be on stage in the cast of the musical “Hamilton,” one of the hottest productions on Broadway, beginning Oct. 10, 2017. He had auditioned only the week before, but felt prepared.
“I left WCU feeling able to deal with whatever was going to come,” he said. “WCU gave me confidence. We had a lot of guest artists. We were able to work with a bunch of talented people. What’s great about the school is there are a lot of opportunities to create your own work. The training was incredible. I owe it all to WCU.”
McKenzie joined the cast of “Hamilton” in the role of George Eaker, a supporter of Vice President Aaron Burr. In 1801, Eaker made a speech insulting Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s son, Philip, confronted Eaker and a duel ensued. Eaker fatally shot the 19-year-old Philip Hamilton on the popular dueling ground in Weehawken, New Jersey, where, three years later, Burr would mortally wound Alexander Hamilton, also in a duel. On stage, McKenzie and Anthony Lee Medina, playing the role of Philip Hamilton, take aim and “shoot” at one another. Hamilton falls to the ground and later dies in the arms of his parents.
McKenzie was born on Long Island, New York, and began training for his acting career in Charlotte before coming to Cullowhee in 2009. Though he is a long way from the mountains, WCU is on his mind. “I live by Prospect Park in Brooklyn, so I can’t say I miss the trees, but the mountains spark a different type of creativity and balance in my life, and I miss them a lot,” McKenzie said. “I’m still in contact with the alumni and the professors. Once you are part of the WCU family, you are always part of the family. We’re always there for each other.”
At WCU, McKenzie majored in musical theater. His final role was “Gangster #2” in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” directed by WCU professor Terrance Mann, a prominent figure on the Broadway stage and in TV and film for the past three decades. Immediately following graduation, McKenzie went on tour with “Mamma Mia” and made his debut on Broadway with the company in the summer of 2014. Leading up to his “Hamilton” appearance, McKenzie won roles in “A Brave New World,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Matilda” and other shows.
McKenzie hopes his success opens doors for other WCU students to make it in the Big Apple. “One of my goals is for the WCU program to have thousands of applicants for shows in New York, like the bigger schools do,” McKenzie said. “I want to see more WCU students coming to New York, more people in the field applying to WCU. I’ve been here a few years and I’ve seen a large number of WCU students coming to New York and doing really great work.”
Spotting his name in play programs still thrills. “A couple of years ago, seeing my name in programs, it was like ‘Whoa, this is reality.’ The magic is never lost.”
Reprinted in edited format with permission of The Sylva Herald.