Baltimore School for the Arts alumna Kamille Upshaw is a "swing" -- she can drop into any of five roles as needed -- in the Broadway hip-hop musical "Hamilton."
Baltimore School for the Arts alumna Kamille Upshaw is a "swing" -- she can drop into any of five roles as needed -- in the Broadway hip-hop musical "Hamilton." (Handout / The Baltimore Sun)

Though tickets are nigh-impossible to get for the smash Broadway hip-hop musical "Hamilton," we can live vicariously through Kamille Upshaw.

The Baltimore School for the Arts alumna, who has performed in national productions including the first national tour of "Flashdance the Musical," is featured in the musical retelling of the life of Alexander Hamilton — one of the country's founding fathers and the first secretary of the treasury.

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Featured as a "swing," the Upper Marlboro native has been cast to master the routines of five different performers in "Hamilton" in case of an emergency or injury, she said — and she must be able to perform at the drop of a hat.

"It's definitely new to me because I've never 'swung' before," Upshaw, 26, said. But being required to have several routines memorized is nothing new for the dancer, who competed throughout the Baltimore area in high school. She first relocated to New York to attend the Juilliard School, then graced stages across Europe and India while touring with Maryland-based dance company Bad Boys of Dance.

"It's kind of tuning into that mindset where I have to compartmentalize everything," said Upshaw. "It's interesting how much information your brain can store, how you can just kind of pull out things that you need at the moment."

Of the five roles Upshaw has learned, her favorite is performing as the bullet that propels toward Hamilton in slow motion, killing the founding father.

"It's really cool how they do it," she said. "And it's a lot of fun to be the thing that is going to end Hamilton."

Upshaw tried out for the part in late August. She auditioned twice. The second time — a demanding three hours of learning and performing a dance routine and singing a short verse for the music director — was enough to land the role.

Three days after her audition, on Sept. 5, Upshaw received a congratulatory call.

"I actually found out on my mom's birthday," Upshaw said. She and her mother, who also used to dance when she was younger, had already planned to see "Hamilton" to celebrate their birthdays. Now Upshaw and her mother would watch the musical knowing that she would be performing in the show.

"I was like 'This is going to be a lot of work!'" said Upshaw, but she welcomed the challenge, because performing has always been her passion.

"I like that what I do on stage affects people in the audience and puts big smiles on their faces. It's a really nice way to express yourself with your body and share yourself and share your story in a show," she said.

Within a week, she was rehearsing, and two months later, on Nov. 25, she made her Broadway debut.

Since then, the dancer, who has been performing since the age of 3, has been fully consumed with "Hamilton," rehearsing twice a week, but she visits her home in Maryland as much as she can, she said. Her time is often spent with family and friends in Upper Marlboro, but if she does make it to Baltimore, Fells Point "is pretty much the spot."

"I love being down by the water. They have a bunch of restaurants and bars. It's just really beautiful down there," she said.

Her involvement in "Hamilton" has been an inspiring experience, she said, surrounding her with seasoned theater professionals all the while shedding light on Hamilton's life and impact on American history. Upshaw said she was surprised how much she didn't know about him.

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"In school, you learn a little bit about [Hamilton] but you don't know that much," she said. "Hamilton was such a big part of why the government and financial system came together, but I didn't know that he was involved or that important. And because he's on the $10 bill many people think he was the president. Nope."

Upshaw said that though the history included in the musical dates back to the 1700s, the musical strongly relates to what's happening now in the 21st century.

"I think the show really is about coming together and being one as a country, and right now, I feel like our country is falling apart a little bit. It definitely correlates to that," Upshaw said. "If you listen to the words in the songs, it speaks to what's happening now and what was happening when Alexander Hamilton was alive. It's as if we're going through a cycle."

The music in "Hamilton," written by playwright and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, won a Grammy award for best musical theater album on Monday night, and has received rave reviews from critics.

Upshaw said that there have been a range of reactions — a mix of laughter and tears — seen among audience members, a testament of how rare the production is.

"I have not seen anything like this. It is the most amazing thing," Upshaw said, comparing its prominence to the critically acclaimed rock musical "Rent."

As for future projects, Upshaw said she cannot see beyond "Hamilton" just yet.

"I want to really enjoy this experience first."

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