Piedmont native who went to Weaver Academy, UNCSA finds success on Broadway

Buckley Report
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It’s not everyone who can casually go through the cameral roll on their phone and see pictures of Hugh Jackman and Lin-Manuel Miranda. And have those pictures be with them.

But then, we’ve known for a while now, that Isaac Powell isn’t your average guy.

He knew, early on, he wanted to be a performer. He attended Weaver Academy in Greensboro – the county’s performing arts magnet – and then went on to the UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem before heading off to New York to give things a shot.

He auditioned for the role of Philip Hamilton – Alexander Hamilton’s son – in the megahit but he was a bit too tall. But now you know why he has a picture of himself with Lin-Manuel Miranda on his phone.

Lin-Manuel came to see Isaac perform as one of the leads in “Once on This Island” on Broadway – a role Isaac won just two months out of the UNCSA. And he feels right at home in New York because he has so many folks with him who know where he comes from.

“Just in ‘West Side Story,’ three out of the five leads were born in North Carolina and raised here,” Isaac says. “That’s crazy! Three out of five of us.”

Oh, did we not mention “West Side Story?” Yeah, two weeks before “Once on This Island” closed, Isaac was cast as Tony in West Side.

Like everything else, it got shutdown when the pandemic hit, but it’s coming back.

“Yeah, yeah,” says Isaac, with a confident nod. But not on Sept. 6, as first projected by New York and the Broadway community. “No, certainly not coming back in September, we know that for sure, now. We’re hearing lots of different things from lots of different people. From the very top, people are so uncertain what’s going to happen. You hear a lot of people saying you won’t be able to go back to work until there’s a vaccine or a really effective treatment and right now I think people are starting to look at spring 2021 as the earliest possible opportunity to be on the stage, at least, but it’ll be back.”

Although his first two big roles are on Broadway, Isaac is open to doing film and TV. There is a certain challenge some performers find from doing eight Broadway shows, every week, but not Isaac.

“I actually find that quite liberating that I’m in control of my show. So, once the director leaves and the show is open, it’s on me to do what I do. I am my own editor, I am my own director, I am my own performer all within the same hour-and-a-half. And I love that momentum that comes with just being able to start it at the top and end it at the end – it feels very complete,” he says. “On a set, you might not be shooting everything chronologically, you might be shooting the end at the very beginning.”

Just a few years into his career, he’s already finding he’s well known not just around his home neighborhood in Harlem but all over the city.

“I mean, it’s very bizarre. I meet people all the time who come to the stage door after the show or follow me down the street or see me on the subway and they come up and talk to me like they know me because they see me on a stage baring my soul for 90 minutes and they feel like they know me and understand me. And, it’s really cool because it means there’s something about my humanity that spoke to somebody else’s humanity and that we can have a conversation about that – if they’re polite. They’re not always polite,” he says with a chuckle, because Isaac is always polite with them. Just part of the job.

Hear what role Isaac is dying to play and which influences in his home town area were key to his success in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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