How a second-generation immigrant conquered Broadway as one of America's Founding Fathers.

The young man fixing his puffy shirt is Okieriete "Oak" Onaodowan, 28, one of the stars of "Hamilton."

"What time is it? Showtime!" Well, almost. All GIFs via Upworthy/YouTube.


"Hamilton" is a hip-hop-infused Broadway musical about the life of American's first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton. In Act One, Onaodowan plays tailor-turned-spy Hercules Mulligan. In Act Two, he transforms into the father of the Constitution and eventual fourth president, James Madison.

He sat down with Upworthy to talk about his background and what makes "Hamilton" such a success.

The show is a critical and box office darling, already selling over $70 million in tickets for shows through next January. But it's more than that, and stars like Onaodowan have everything to do with it.

Watch Oak's interview and scroll down to see why this show is so special.

Did Oak, a first-generation Nigerian-American, ever think he'd play a Founding Father?

The short answer:

Please elaborate for us, Oak.

And for good reason. His parents both hail from Nigeria and settled in New Jersey. Oak was born in Newark, raised in East Orange and West Orange. Since his parents didn't have a strong grasp on American pop culture, Oak picked it up on his own and with help from friends. Before long, he found his place on stage and was performing in local and regional productions as a poet and actor.

Soon he landed on Broadway, performing in "Rocky" and "Cyrano." Huge wins for any young actor.

But a starring role as a former president? Even Oak couldn't have imagined that.

Instead of casting white actors for the roles of the Founding Fathers, "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda sought a diverse group of actors and musicians to take on the challenge of bringing these historic figures to life.

"Hamilton" debuted at the Public Theater in January 2015 to rave reviews. After a nearly five-month run (and a few months of transition), the cast made its Broadway debut last August.

Image via Upworthy/YouTube.

Oak has been a busy man ever since, performing to sold-out crowds eight times a week. The soundtrack (known as a cast recording) hit #1 on Billboard's rap chart, and the cast performed at the Grammys — also taking home the award for Best Musical Theater Album.

Miranda, Oak, and the rest of the cast accepting the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

What is it that makes "Hamilton" unique?

If you ask Oak, the winning combination is quite simple.

"It's black people portraying old white men and getting everyone excited about American history," he said. "And us getting to understand these men through different faces."

What was that last part, Oak?

"And us getting to understand these men through different faces."

BOOM. There it is.

At its heart, "Hamilton" is such a powerful story because it makes these pillars of history, these fathers of our country, more accessible than ever before.

Through contemporary music and a talented, diverse cast, the show brings history to life. These American statesmen are no longer tired faces on the backs of coins. Their humanity is ever-present. We feel their fear. We empathize with their feelings of inadequacy and desire to be great.

For the first time, we're seeing these figures clearly — and lo and behold, they're a lot like us.

Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

Empathy and art go together like, well, empathy and art.

Performance is a powerful tool to explore a small part of someone else's lived experience. And actors like Oak Onaodowan make it possible, bringing charisma, guts, and heart to each show.

So when you pay to see live theater, it's not just a few hours of music in the dark. It's a chance to connect and be a part of something much bigger.

Now, on with the show.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less