Talk about making history.
One Brooklyn graduate has established himself as a force to be reckoned with after landing not one, but two roles in one of Broadway’s most-talked-about productions.
At just 24 years old, New Utrecht High School graduate Anthony Ramos (’09) has taken the Richard Rodgers Theatre stage by storm as both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” and on Monday, February 15, joined his cast mates in accepting the production’s first-ever Grammy award for Best Musical Theater Album.
But, according to fellow New Utrecht alum Sara Steinweiss, things could have been a lot different for Ramos had he never been given the right opportunities in high school.
“Anthony represents so much of what the theater guild at New Utrecht High School was built on,” said Steinweiss, who started the musical theater program in her senior year at New Utrecht and, years later, returned as a teacher and ran the program for 15 years. “I started it as a way to give kids like myself who had no place to go somewhere to be and something to create – and that’s just what Anthony did.”
According to his teachers, Ramos was following a different dream at first.
“He was an excellent baseball player who was definitely on the baseball track,” said Steinweiss, “but [when I heard him sing] I said, ‘You have to be in the theater guild.’”
With a little push – and some intricate scheduling – Ramos went on to join Steinweiss’ theater program, where he would go on to land such roles as Jack in Bishop Kearney High School’s rendition of “Into the Woods” and Seymour in New Utrecht’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“As soon as he auditioned for the role, I knew he was extremely talented and had what it took to be a star,” said Tommy Meyers, a former Bishop Kearney teacher who assistant-directed Ramos in “Into the Woods.” “I’ve been directing for 10 years now and I still remember that baseball hat-wearing, energetic, smiling kid from New Utrecht High School who walked into that audition as if it were yesterday.
“His presence on and off stage was magnetic and contagious,” Meyers went on. “Aside from his personality, his singing would make anyone stop in their place.”
As it turns out, Meyers wasn’t the only one in awe of Ramos.
“I had the honor of watching him in the lead role of Seymour in ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ and I remember speaking to my colleagues and his friends and saying, ‘This kid is going places,” recalled former New Utrecht High School history teacher and current City Councilmember Mark Treyger. “He blew everybody away.”
Subsequently, Steinweiss helped Ramos apply for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) – a school to which he would eventually receive a full scholarship with help from “Stein” (Ramos’ nickname for Steinweiss), and her connections with the Jerry Seinfeld Scholarship/Pencil Scholarship program.
After completeing the two-year program at AMDA, Ramos was offered a full-time gig on a cruise ship where he went on to make his own connections and land himself the role of a lifetime.
“He got on that cruise ship and the rest is history,” said Steinweiss.
Today, Ramos’ talent isn’t all his former teachers agree upon.
“Anthony is a testament to the amazing talent that we have in our public school system, and to how important it is that we provide these type of opportunities to our students,” said Treyger. “This is, I think, a victory for Anthony, for his family and friends, and for the public school system. I am proud to know him.”
“Anthony is a tell-tale sign of what the arts do for our kids,” said Steinweiss, stressing that the theater program at New Utrecht was eventually cut down to nothing due to funding. “This kid is holding a Grammy in his hands, and what that represents for New York City public schools is enormous. It shows students that everything is possible.”
“Hamilton,” a diverse, hip-hop-and-rap-infused narrative about the nation’s founding fathers, made its Off-Broadway debut at the Public Theater in February, 2015, and premiered on Broadway in August, 2015. Tickets are available by lottery at www.hamiltonbroadway.com