Montclair Magazine Holiday 2020 - Page 12

the arts

Taking His Shot

MontclairHigh grad DanielBelnavis tours America in Hamilton WRITTENBYJULIA MARTIN

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 .
Daniel Belnavis
“ 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