Cheers to Hamilton! The Tony award winning production has something else to celebrate now; it has inspired a beer. The juggernaut's cast members Javier Muñoz, Kamille Upshaw and David Guzman joined The Happy Hours Guys (actors James Ludwig and Mark Aldrich) to create a Hamilton-inspired craft beer: Rise Up Rye.
Jimmy Ludwig and Mark Aldrich founded The Broadway Brews Project, which would match a Broadway show with a brewery in order to create a special beer themed in relation to the show. Another positive thing about the idea, besides obviously beer itself, is that the proceeds from the sale go to a charity picked by the show's cast.
In the case of Rise Up Rye, the Broadway Brews Project partnered with Gun Hill Brewing Company in the Bronx. Pairing that particular brewery with a show as inclusive as Hamilton felt like a no-brainer.
The Hamilton cast chose Graham Windham, the orphanage founded by Eliza Hamilton in 1806, as the charity that would get the proceeds from Rise Up Rye.
We spoke with James Ludwig from The Happy Hour Guys and with Hamilton rising star Kamille Upshaw about this awesome initiative, the beer-making process and, of course, about one of the most successful shows in Broadway ever, Hamilton.
PopWrapped: This is your Broadway debut, how did you get the role?
Kamille Upshaw: This is my Broadway debut! I had to audition twice for the show. The first time I auditioned was an open call because I was extremely interested in this show and wanted to get the chance to work with Andy Blankenbuhler. I got to the final callbacks and then didn't get the job. I was still very adamant about wanting to work with Andy, so I didn't let that get me down. A few months later I got a call saying that Hamilton would be doing an invited call and they wanted me to come in. I got there and there were only five girls and five guys. I knew this was my chance to really leave a lasting impression. We danced a lot and then sang. We all walked away from that audition not knowing whom they would give the job to. A few days later I get a call from my agent on a holiday weekend. The offices were closed, so in my mind it was something very important. September 5th, 2015 is the day I found out I got the job! I was being offered the vacation swing contract. I couldn't have been happier! By the end of my fourth month with the company, I was asked to join as a full time swing. I have been having a blast from the very beginning!
PW: How was performing on the Tonys different than performing on the show every day?
KU: Performing on the Tonys was UNREAL! It was very different from performing every day because I got to step on a stage where my fellow friends in other shows also got to perform. It was a big celebration the entire time and felt so powerful to have so many artists in one place just doing what we love to do.
PW: What are your future plans? Would you like to make a transition and explore acting on television or movies or would you prefer to concentrate on theater for a while?
KU: My plans are always evolving! Broadway was once a dream but now I am trying to decide what I want to conquer next. I would love to dabble in TV and film but continue working on my singing and acting as a Broadway performer.
PW: Is the amount of praise the show has been getting a bit overwhelming? How do you handle being on one of the most successful shows ever on Broadway?
KU: The amount of praise the show gets is definitely a little overwhelming but I stay very humble. This whole experience has allowed me to grow so much as an artist. Being surrounded by the massive amount of talent reminds me of how blessed I am and how I shall never take this show for granted. I will look back ten years from now and just smile.
PW: Why do you feel Hamilton is an important story to tell?
KU: Hamilton is such an important story to tell because it is a story about a man that was so determined to create endless amount of options for his country. There was no limit to what was possible. It’s a story about a man who came from nothing and created an incredible life for himself. He knew that “you are only as good as the person next to you.” He always surrounded himself with the best of the best. He was a fighter, a lover and a passionate man! I feel like with the exposure of this show to young people, we are sharing with them that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. Hamilton changed the game back in the 1700’s and now he is changing the world in 2016!
PW: Hamilton is known for casting people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to play white historical figures, any thoughts on the notion that the show is discriminating against white performers?
KU: This was a subject briefly in the media and it got discussed and explained very quickly. I will say this, there are so many shows that people of color are not even looked at for and this has been going on since Broadway was born. If Hamilton weren’t this big phenomenon of a show, no one would have an issue. No one is discriminating against white performers! White performers are mad because this is a show that is doing well and the vision for the show is to give all other ethnicities a chance to tell this story! For once the token in the cast isn’t a person of color!
PW: Do you feel Hamilton is working as a vehicle to present people from all ethnic backgrounds equal opportunities?
KU: Yes! This show is changing the game and I am excited to see what the future holds for Broadway casting and movies.
PW: Speaking of Rise Up Rye and The Broadways Brews Project now, how did you take part on the beer making process and what did you think of it?
KU: I wasn't able to make it to the first meeting they had at "5 Napkin Burger", but I was able to get to the brewery and take part in making the beer. I got to pour in the hops and get a better understanding of how our beer was going to be made. I waited about a month before we were able to taste it. My first sip of the beer took place at our beer release party. The second it touched my lips I made it my new favorite beer.
PW: What does it taste like? How would you describe it?
KU: The beer tastes like heaven! It's the perfect summer beer after a hot day outside. It's a little spicy but citrusy at the same time. You must taste it if you haven't already. I'd say I'm really proud of the Hamilton Brew Crews creation.
PW: Why did the cast choose Graham Windham to get the proceeds from Rise up Rye?
KU: It was such a no-brainer! We are so passionate about Graham Windham and what they offer for the kids in their program. Eliza has created this beautiful organization and it only seems fit that this phenomenon of a show helps to continue her legacy!
PW: Tell us about your initiative, The Broadways Brews Project.
James Ludwig: We’ve been doing The Happy Hour Guys on a regular basis since 2008, but our Broadway lives - we’re both Broadway Actors - and our ‘Craft’ lives have always lived in separate bubbles. When we started the show that didn’t seem to matter, but the longer we’ve been producing the more it was important to really be truthful about what sets our show apart; and that’s our connection to the craft of acting. I think it was more at the front of my brain; so I kept thinking about ways to bring those things together.
PW: How did you get the idea of making beer paired with Broadway shows?
JL: One of our ‘adjunct faculty’, a long-time camera op and sometime onscreen partner, Justin ‘Squigs’ Robertson, noticed at one point in early 2015 that Gun Hill was brewing a beer called ‘Schuyler’s American Wheat’, named after the woman who was the Schuyler’s sisters’ mother in Hamilton. "Isn’t that crazy?" I remember him saying. "They should collaborate somehow." I filed it away and didn’t think about it for a time because, while it was interesting, there was something missing.
Months later I was doing a gig out of town in St. Louis and I was out running. I do a lot of thinking when I run, it’s sort of my moving mediation. And I stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of the street - thank goodness there was no traffic - and thought: “We’re going to pair a hit Broadway show with a local Brewer, and brew a beer for charity. And we’ll facilitate, and capture, the whole thing.”
Charity was the missing piece to the big idea. Craft startups (brewers, distillers, etc) are incredibly into the idea of giving back, it’s woven into their DNA. The same is true for theatre artists - giving back, lending our time to charitable work, is something we do constantly. So putting them together with that as the connective tissue was, finally, a no-brainer.
PW: How did you approach Hamilton producers and actors to work with you on this?
JL:I approached several Broadway shows, usually through actor connections - New York acting is a fairly small community, all told; the Degrees of Separation are pretty small. I got some refusals, and Hamilton was the first show to say yes. I got interest from some folks in the cast, who forwarded me to PR, who then got me to the Producers. Also the co-owner of Gun Hill Brewing, Dave Lopez, was in on this part. At one point we did a sit-down tasting at the Hamilton Producing office; Dave showcased their beers, and I showcased some The Happy Hour Guys episodes. Jeffrey Seller, the Hamilton lead Producer, signed off on my birthday. Coincidence? I wonder.
PW: Which other shows are you planning on working with next? Which shows would be your dream shows to team up with?
JL:We’ve got several that we’re looking at. Funny how it’s a little different pitching this to folks than it was just a few months ago. My thought is that it would be really cool to go from a groundbreaking, generation-making show like Hamilton to something more ‘classic Broadway Mega-Hit’, but there are also 3 new shows from this season that are very interested. We’ll see, it’s all going to depend on availability and who signs off.
PW: What is the process of making beer like?
JL:Ha ha! Funny you should ask that. I think this is one of the reasons that no one has made a successful TV show about Craft Beer yet: the beer making process is bad TV. Think about it, when you watch a food show, you salivate as you see them creating whatever dish they’re making. But when you make beer, most of the imagery is downright unappetizing, a lot of it happens behind steel or wooden walls, so you’re really limited, until you get to the final moment of pouring the pint.
We know the secret to making a great TV show about craft - but I’ll wait for the Travel Channel or Food Network to call before I divulge that one.
PW: Hamilton actors were part of the process. How did this happen with their completely busy schedules?
JL:Not gonna lie, it was tough. Especially when they had to reschedule Brew Day, which was a lot of moving parts and schedules. When I reached out to PR, saying “Oh, man, come on, pulling this off is going to take some fancy moves!” PR said, “Well, they’re performing for the Obamas.”
I started moving. I mean, it’s the leader of the Free World and all. And we got a great Brew Day shoot after all. And I know the cast who were there really got a great idea about the artistry that goes into the beer making process.
PW: Where can we get Rise Up Rye? Are there plans to expand selling points?
JL:There is a second batch being prepared. It’s a double batch - twice as much as the first time - and about 40% of this will be kegged off and delivered to Craft Beer bars in NYC and the area, but this time, 60% will be canned. I’ve seen the can design and it’s gorgeous. And we also have gotten permission for the cans to be sold in the theatre at the Richard Rodgers. The theatre owners, the Nederlanders, have agreed to try it once, as an experiment, to see how it does. So we’re hoping the beer flies out of there, so they’ll make it a regular thing. We think, again, that that is a no-brainer.
PW: We know that the proceeds are going to charity. Tell us a little about
Graham Windham,the charity that was chosen for this particular case.
JL:Oh, this is so cool. The cast chose Graham Windham, which is the modern name of the orphanage that Eliza Hamilton started... 210 years ago. It still exists! In particular, Graham Windham has partnered with the Hamilton cast to create a program called the Eliza Project, which is a performing arts program for the 4000-some kids that Graham supports. And as long as Rise Up Rye is brewed, a small amount of sales will go to
We’ll keep going with this too. The plan is that The Broadway Brews Project will, in a couple years, give us the Broadway Six Pack - 6 shows, 6 Craft Beers, all benefitting 6 great charities.
I keep saying this, but… how cool is that?
I say, it's pretty darn cool!