For all the excitement
of performing with the touring company of the Broadway show Hamilton , actor Daniel Belnavis is equally thrilled to be be back and settled inhis Montclair hometown .
Belnavis , a2008 graduate of Montclair High School and the School of Music and Theater at the University of Michigan , was an ensemble actor and understudy in the original Hamilton touring company . Over two and ahalf years , he performed the show 830 times during stints in 19 U . S . cities , including San Francisco , Los Angeles , Denver , Atlanta , Houston and Boston .
In addition tosinging in the ensemble , Belnavis had to be ready to fill in for King George , George Washington and “ Madison-Mulligan ” ( one actor plays both James Madison and Hercules Mulligan ) atamoment ’ s notice .
With eight shows and three rehearsals every week , plus frequent travel ,“ touring was thrilling but exhausting ,” Belnavis says . He left the show last spring and now lives in Montclair with his father , Lloyd , mother Leslie Treadwell ( MHS class of 1984 ) and sister Cayla , a 2006 MHS graduate who works in development for public radio station WNYC .
Before landing the part in Hamilton , Belnavis spent four years as astruggling actor in New York City . It was tougher than he ’ d imagined . During his last year at the prestigious theater program at Michigan , he performed for agents and casting directors during asenior showcase , but didn ’ t get asingle call afterward .
“ It was pretty devastating ,” he says . “ I let myself be devastated for a day and then I said to myself , ‘ Are you going to throw away your dream because you didn ’ t get noticed ?’”
The answer was no . Belnavis moved back to Montclair and started pounding pavements . “ I would take the first train into New York and wait outside the casting office , sometimes all day ,” he says . Little by little , he built relationships and got auditions and , several years later , an agent .
Hamilton had been onBroadway for about a year when the agent called to say he ’ d gotten Belnavis an audition for the Hamilton touring company . Belnavis was thrilled ; he hadn ’ t seen the show , but was “ obsessed ” with the cast recording . He was also surprised , since he ’ d read that the company had already been cast . He was the last actor cast
for the original touring company .
Being an understudy was especially demanding , since it requires additional rehearsals , and is “ really unpredictable ,” Belnavis says . “ It ’ s terrifying , but it teaches you a lot about the importance of preparation .”
The process of choosing understudies either from ensemble members or actors who are dedicated understudies is “ like a science ,” he says . “ They have to strategize . If they pick someone from the ensemble , then they have to find a replacement for that role , too . It becomes awhole musical chairs game . It ’ s insane .”
One night Belnavis was onstage in Hartford singing “ Wait for It ” with the ensemble when he heard someone whispering his name from the wings . An actor had suddenly gotten sick and Belvanis needed to get out of his ensemble outfit , into Hercules
COURTESY OF DANIEL JAMES BELNAVIS
10 HOLIDAY 2020 MONTCLAIR MAGAZINE