HAMILTON's Phillipa Soo Extends Her Character's Charitable Legacy With 'The Eliza Project'

By: Dec. 30, 2015
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As Eliza Schuyler, who eventually marries Lin-Manuel Miranda's title character in the hit historical musical, Hamilton, Phillipa Soo has a moment where she explains how after her husband's death, the widow's proudest accomplishment was starting the first private orphanage in New York City; a tribute to her late husband, who came to America as an orphan.

Originating in 1806 as The Orphan Asylum Society a refuge for 16 children who lost their parents to cholera and yellow fever, that modest beginning as grown into Graham Windham, a social services organization that provides foster care, a therapeutic school and counseling for more than 4,000 of the city's most vulnerable children.

The popularity of Broadway's Hamilton has been evidenced by a surge of donations to Graham Windham this year, with company members reaching out to create a bond between the musical and the non-profit.

Soo was one of two dozen members of the cast and crew who recently became pen-pals with the agency's children and has recruited some of her colleagues to participate in "The Eliza Project," where professionals offer Graham Windham kids lessons in acting, dancing and rap.

"What better way to make a connection to her legacy?" she tells The Wall Street Journal.

"In their eyes I see you, Alexander," sings Soo at every performance. Eliza Hamilton served as its first director for 27 years, helping to raise hundreds of children.

In the current fiscal year, Graham Windham has a budget of nearly $59 million, mostly in city contracts to serve families in Harlem, the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Jess Dannhauser, president of Graham Windham, said the agency's tie with the cast began more than a year ago when it received a surprise donation from Lin-Manuel Miranda. When he called to thank him, Miranda advised, "Wait until you see the ending, you'll flip out."

Indeed, Dannhauser and children served by Graham Windham were invited to the show, and were thrilled to hear the reference to the organization that has done so much for them.

"I felt special," said Dymond, a 13-year-old who loves writing poetry. Although she often skipped school back in Brooklyn, she said the musical motivated her to tackle Ron Chernow's biography, on which the musical was based, with a dictionary by her side.

Natalie, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, said living at the Graham Windham campus turned her life around. "If it weren't for this place, I would be in the street, dead or in jail, or not finishing school and having babies," she said. "I wouldn't want that for anybody."

"The Eliza Project" has been in the works for months, as Soo has visited the Graham Windham School and spent hours talking with its students. She wanted to offer them the kind of 'teaching artist" program she saw when she studied at the Juilliard School.

She envisions about 10 cast members working with 15 students from across Graham Windham's services, for two-hour classes on four Tuesdays in February. The core mission, she said, "is to use the arts as a means of expression, as an outlet for personal experience, and to uplift the creative spirit."

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The new musical Hamilton has book, music and lyrics by Tony and Grammy Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also plays the title role. The musical is directed by Thomas Kail, with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and music direction and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. Hamilton is inspired by Ron Chernow's biography "Alexander Hamilton."

$10 front row seats for Hamilton - the new musical about the $10 Founding Father, AlexanderHamiltonare on sale for each show by lottery. THE LOTTERY begins two and half hours prior to each performance when patrons may enter their name at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 W. 46 St.) for a chance to buy up to two front row tickets for $10 each -Hamilton for "Hamilton." The winner's names will be drawn 2 hours before show time. Entrants must present photo ID, and the winners must pay with cash at the box office.

The cast of Hamilton is comprised of Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton), Daveed Diggs(Marquis De Lafayette,Thomas Jefferson), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler),Christopher Jackson (George Washington),Jonathan Groff (King George), Jasmine Cephas Jones (Peggy Schuyler, Maria Reynolds), Javier Muñoz (Hamilton alternate), Okieriete Onaodowan(Hercules Mulligan, James Madison), Leslie Odom, Jr. (Aaron Burr),Anthony Ramos(John Laurens, PhilipHamilton) and Phillipa Soo (ElizaHamilton).

HAMILTON is the acclaimed new musical about the scrappy young immigrant Alexander Hamilton, the $10 Founding Father who forever changed America with his revolutionary ideas and actions. During his life cut too short, he served as George Washington's chief aide, was the first Treasury Secretary, a loving husband and father, despised by his fellow Founding Fathers and shot to death by Aaron Burr in their legendary duel.

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