'I listened to educators'

On Oct. 30, Broadway and Hamilton star Tyler McKenzie read questions on index cards from third-grade students in the J.H. Gunn Elementary gym.

"OK, so the first question is, 'Are you rich?'" said a laughing McKenzie. "I am rich in family and friends and relationships and love. And I do very well."

McKenzie is in town to perform in Hamilton at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Even with his busy performance and rehearsal schedule, McKenzie found time to visit 18 schools and dance studios to teach kids Hamilton choreography and talk to them about being successful.

McKenzie, a graduate of Union County Public Schools, knew that one of his stops had to be J.H. Gunn because Assistant Principal Jennifer Clark was his literature teacher in Union County.

"He posted on Facebook that he was coming to Charlotte," said Clark. "So I reached out to him to see if he would come by and he was glad to do it."

11.2.18.Hamilton guy 2.jpgMcKenzie, a cast member of the Broadway production, is now in the touring cast. "He was always very talented," said Clark. "He performed in all our school productions. And he always loved the spotlight. One day in class, we had funerals for words that we weren't using anymore. We all dressed in black and pretended to mourn. But Tyler was the only one who could produce real tears."

McKenzie spoke to the school's third-grade students about the importance of being kind to everyone, practicing without ceasing and college. "You can do anything you want to do if you work hard enough," he told students.

After a question-and-answer session where students inquired about McKenzie's flexibility, marital status and birthday, he taught students several dance moves from Hamilton choreography.

McKenzie said talking to students, especially aspiring performers, is something he enjoys. "It's one thing to have a teacher say it's worth doing the work," he said. "But there is something very special about having someone who once sat in the bleachers where they are come in and tell them, 'I am where I am because I listened to educators.'"