A man from Bristol is among the cast of the Hamilton tour, currently playing at the Bristol Hippodrome. Michael James Stewart, 32, was born and raised in Bristol and has gone on to have a career in the performing arts that has taken him on tours across the globe, and the stages of the West End.

Michael grew up in Southmead, St Pauls, Henbury and Filton, attending multiple schools in the area. He says that his teachers helped him realise his passion for performing arts, urging him to consider progressing into further study beyond secondary education.

“I did drama and dance at Henbury in year 10 for two years,” he says. “But prior to that I was kind of interested in acting but I hadn’t done much. And with dance I did little bits at primary school but I never really thought about it as a job or something I would do once I left.”

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Michael completed a Dance BTEC at Filton College, before auditioning for a place in London’s Urdang Academy. There he fully immersed himself in three years of musical theatre training and has spent the past decade in various musicals – his last in Bristol was in Mamma Mia! in 2016. His current role in Hamilton, he says, is his eighth musical in 10 years.

“I’ve been very lucky,” he says. “I spent the last two years in the West End doing ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ and ‘The Drifter’s Girl’. A lot of performers dream of being in the West End, and I’ve been fortunate enough to do it.

“But I also enjoy touring. There’s some places you would never go if you hadn’t had to go there for work, and so I’ve been very lucky in the fact that I’ve been to China, Thailand, Singapore – all doing musicals. It’s opened so many doors and to say that it’s the job is a little bit weird because most days I go on stage, say a few words, have a bit of fun and I get paid at the end of the week.”

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In his current role, or rather roles, Michael has had the huge job of learning lines for two characters in the production of Hamilton, which will be at the Bristol Hippodrome until June 22. He is a standby for both Washington and Mulligan, two of the stars of the production and two characters with rather giant personalities.

When it comes to auditioning for the role, Michael says he almost missed his chance due to conflicting schedules with the production he was in the process of wrapping up. But he adds that this meant his audition process was not as long as you might usually find them to be.

“For instance, for Hamilton you can go upwards of 10 auditions for the same musical”, he says. “It’s a long process from start to end – it can be something like three months. I was very lucky this time around. The first time I auditioned for Hamilton was when it first came to the West End, and I didn’t get it then so I was a bit sad.

DeAngelo Jones, Shaq Taylor, Billy Nevers and KM Drew Boateng in Hamilton
DeAngelo Jones, Shaq Taylor, Billy Nevers and KM Drew Boateng in Hamilton – Bristol’s Michael James Stewart is a standby for Boateng’s character, Hercules Mulligan (Image: Danny Kaan)

“This time I got the job on the Friday and started on the Monday. It was a lot really quick and it wasn’t until about three or four weeks later where it sunk in.”

Known for its lengthy script, Hamilton has given Michael plenty to get stuck into. He says: “I’m a standby for Washington and Mulligan. It makes it easier to learn things for me when they’re two completely different characters.

“It is a lot – it’s a lot of words, there’s a lot of songs, there’s a lot of rap. It’s very quick and the story itself moves very fast.”

Michael had six weeks to learn the part of Washington before going back and learning Mulligan too. He goes on to say: “It’s one of the perks of the job as a standby and there are multiple avenues to go about playing those characters, which is something that’s exciting for me.

“It’s not just one thing every day, so it does keep it fresh. And it’s in what I think is probably one of the greatest musicals that’s ever been created. So I find it very exciting. At the start I was going to bed thinking of the songs, waking up and humming them.”

When it comes to what it means to Michael to be part of Hamilton, and to get to perform in the production on stage in his hometown, he says: “I don’t think I’d be able to do it justice with words, but if I could tell 16 year old Michael ‘you’ll be doing this’ he wouldn’t believe it.

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‘This is what I should be doing’

“Everyday when I come to work I do feel very grateful and, especially performing at home now in Bristol, that’s another thing on top of everything else that I’ve been very lucky to do. I have a lot of older family who wouldn’t have been able to travel to London and some of my old school friends and teachers have been able to come to watch because it’s just down the road.

“Those things do make me feel humble and I don’t think I’ll ever truly get over it. It just feels right and it feels like like this is what I should be doing.

“When I told my family I was going to be doing this 20 years ago, they were a bit like ‘what are you on about?’ And now that they’ve been to see me – and in this sort of show, this feels like the top for me.

“Where do I go from here, I don’t know? Maybe being on stage all the time, as I’m a standby right now. Or if there’s an opportunity to be in a series on Netflix, I’d love to try that.

“But I don’t think I’d ever leave musical theatre really, so at the moment I’m very happy to stay where I am, perhaps on the West End. I’m not ready to leave Hamilton yet.”

On his advice for anyone looking to follow in the same career path, Michael says: “Keep at it. I know it’s hard. I’ve lived in London and I’ve done the bar jobs and worked four jobs at the same time. I’ve done retail and gone to auditions in my break and I haven’t got it.

“It is a grind and it is hard work, but I do think that it’s worth it and I think it’s about not being phased about getting a few no’s, because that one yes is worth, I think, a thousand no’s. For me, that one yes for Hamilton outweighs anything else.”