Sydney James Harcourt is a Detroit success story. Many young actors from Michigan move to New York City hoping to make it in theater, with Broadway, of course, being the ultimate goal. But unlike Harcourt, most can’t brag about appearing as an original cast member in a show as lauded as “Hamilton” — a production that many a critic has referred to as a cultural phenomenon. And while live Broadway productions might be dark now due to the dire circumstances of the novel coronavirus, the show must go on. Originally scheduled for a theatrical release in October 2021, “Hamilton” the movie is airing now on Disney+.
Harcourt is in the movie in the roles he originated with the production even before it made it to Broadway. He plays James Reynolds, Phillip Schuyler and the doctor. (On Broadway he would go on to replace Leslie Odom, Jr. in the role of Aaron Burr and appear in more than 700 performances of the show.) He said he had heard little about “Hamilton” when he participated in a workshop of the play.
“I knew it was a musical that was telling the story of the founding fathers who rap,” he said. “My agents were very skeptical about that. But I looked at the material and I thought it sounded good.”
Harcourt originally auditioned for the role of George Washington.
“It was very laid back. Two auditions. One for the music director and one with Lin [Manuel Miranda, who wrote the lyrics and book]. I was the first person to ever sing ‘History Has Its Eyes on You.’ He had just written it and brought it in,” Harcourt said. “Then I never had to audition again. When we moved to the Public Theatre the cast just went with it, and the same for Broadway.”
The show was an instant sensation. It would go on to win 11 Tony Awards. And Harcourt would pick up a Grammy Award for his feature performance on the show’s original soundtrack.
“People ask me, ‘Did you know early on it was going to be this big thing?’ And I always tell them there’s just no way to know you’re going to be a part of a cultural phenomenon like that,” he said. “You think it would maybe be the biggest thing that season. But I didn’t know I would meet President Barack Obama three times or be standing in the White House.
And for Harcourt, “the journey continues.”
“I still don’t know what’s coming next with this juggernaut in my life. But I do know it’s all blessings and all opportunities,” he said. “I just try to meet the moment and make the best use of the time I have to be a part of a show that touches people so deeply.”
These days, Harcourt splits his time between Michigan and NYC.
“I’m in Ann Arbor right now. I’ve been here since March. Ever since I heard about the pandemic I said Michigan is the safest place to be. I went to the University of Michigan after Interlochen, and I wanted to still live at home so we moved here. I love New York. It was a place of opportunity when you were living in a time when there was no internet and you had to be in New York or LA just for auditions,” Harcourt said. “But Michigan is my favorite place to be and I come here as much as I can.”
When asked, Harcourt said he is also hopeful for Michigan’s artistic future.
“In New York, there’s an astonishing amount of successful artists from Michigan. There’s something in the water here, and I have this hope that the art scene is going to explode here in Detroit and Ypsilanti and Traverse City,” he said. “To me, this is the spot. This is the place to be and I’m doing my part to help that happen.”
But until concerns about the pandemic die down, Harcourt has decided to sit back, relax and enjoy seeing a taste of the Broadway experience at home.
“We didn’t know when it was going to come out. Then, suddenly, four years later you’re getting to see what you did. And for me, watching it back, I don’t remember being that good,” Harcourt said. “I remember being tired, thinking, ‘How am I going to do it again?’ Then you see the finished project and the feeling is pride. It really is.”
Find the show online at disneyplus.com.