Governor’s School grad returns to Greenville as ‘Hamilton’ cast member

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"Hamilton" will be at Greenville's Peace Center for a two-week run beginning Dec. 4. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Hamilton” hadn’t been on Broadway long when Wonza Johnson had dinner with South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities drama department chairman Daniel Murray and some current Govies.

Murray asked him when he was going to audition for the show, which has gone on to become one of the hottest tickets on Broadway and has two national tours on the road, including one that comes to Greenville for a sold-out two-week run at the Peace Center beginning Dec. 4.

“I can so see you in that,” Murray said to the 2012 Governor’s School graduate. Johnson replied, “I can see me in that, too.”

“Maybe we spoke it into existence in that moment,” Johnson said.

Wonza Johnson

When Johnson returns to Greenville next month for the first time since his Governor’s School graduation, it will be as a “Hamilton” cast member. He’s in the ensemble and understudies several roles. Johnson will play Hamilton during the Dec. 11 performance, a show he said some Governor’s School faculty will attend.

“If it wasn’t for the unbelievable training I received at the Governor’s School, I wouldn’t have gotten bit by the musical theater bug and found my passion for singing and dancing,” he said. “The faculty opened my eyes to a new world, and without them I would not be in the hit musical phenomenon that is ‘Hamilton.’”

Johnson auditioned for the first national tour and was a finalist but ultimately didn’t get cast. When auditions were held for the second national tour, he went straight to the finals. When he left the room after his audition, a casting rep followed him out and told him he was getting a spot.

“I knew I had the talent,” he said. “But it’s also about puzzle-piecing. I understudy a lot of roles so they had to make sure everything fit. It was amazing after two years of auditioning. I was so proud, nervous, and scared, but so excited about everything that was to come.”

Johnson, who has family in Greenville, said that while he was at the Governor’s School, he practiced up to six hours a day. He pushed to take additional dance classes and voice lessons in addition to his acting and academic classes.

“They could see I had a passion for musical theater,” he said. “I realized I could do all three — act, sing, and dance — and be a triple threat.”

Johnson helped clean out and organize costumes and props at The Warehouse Theatre so he could see the shows.

“Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony Awards in 2016 and the Pulitzer Prize in drama for writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, incorporates hip-hop, R&B, pop, soul, and traditional show tunes.

“It is a timeless tale,” Johnson said of the musical, which tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers whose ambition led him from Carribbean outsider to George Washington’s right-hand man.

Johnson said the Governor’s School helped him realize his American dream.

“I get to go back and show them what I’ve done and where I’ve gone and where my career has taken me,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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