“There’s a question we ask throughout our show: what is a legacy?” says Hamilton dance captain Morgan Marcell. “Really the only thing we, as humans, regardless of occupation, want to do is leave some sort of legacy. We just want to make a difference. Alexander Hamilton wrote his way into the foundation of our country; Eliza Hamilton secured hers through philanthropy. The least we can do is honor their legacy and try to create our own.”
One of the show’s most profound philanthropic efforts began with Phillipa Soo, who plays Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. “We have a show that talks of revolution and the building of our country, and I think it reminds us constantly that there’s a lot of work to be done,” she says. “But there’s a lot of room to give back.”
In the final number of the show, Soo as Eliza steps forward and sings the lines that could coax tears out of a statue.
“Can I show you what I’m proudest of?
I established the first private orphanage in New York City
I help to raise hundreds of children
I get to see them growing up”
It is that very New York City orphanage, now an organization known as Graham Windham, that is so frequently on the receiving end of the cast’s generosity. Assisting more than 4,000 of the city’s children, Graham Windham provides foster care, counseling, and adoption services in addition to serving as a free-standing therapeutic school.
Soo discovered the non-profit while researching her role. “I actually didn’t find out about the orphanage until last summer. I didn’t realize that it still existed,” she said. “And it ended up being such a wonderful, special day, going to the campus up in the Bronx and getting to meet some of the students that were a part of Eliza’s legacy. What was cool about it is that we were connected already by this person, by Eliza, so it kind of seemed appropriate to invite them into the Hamilton world? They were so inviting to us that it just seemed appropriate to create a relationship.”
And so, “The Eliza Project” was born. Currently led by Soo and Marcell, the group supports Graham Windham through a variety of programs. In February, for example, cast members taught a series of arts masterclasses at the campus.
“We went for four or five weeks with these kids who have had really tough lives, and we tried to get them to talk about it a little bit and make some art, but really it was about spending time together,” said Leslie Odom, Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in the show. “It really ended up doing more for us than it did for them. It was just such a beautiful friendship that developed.”
In addition to the arts education program, Marcell runs “Share Your Stories,” a pen-pal partnership between the kids at Graham Windham and participating members of the show’s cast. “It’s really a lost art form, handwriting, and it’s so heavily featured in our show,” she said, “I thought it would be the perfect medium to inspire children.”
Of course, the publicity alone that comes with being associated with the Broadway behemoth is invaluable to Graham Windham, but the cast continues to find new ways to support the organization. They recently worked with The Happy Hour Guys and Gun Hill Brewery on the debut Broadway Brews collaboration: a limited-edition craft beer to be put on tap in about 40 bars across New York City that would benefit Graham Windham. So far, Rise Up Rye has raised over $8,000 for The Eliza Project, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the charity for as long as the beer is available.
“We get so much doing this glorious material, and we get so much from our audiences, and so when you’re in a moment like that, you feel the responsibility very acutely to pay it forward.” -Leslie Odom, Jr.