A tale of many cities: ‘Hamilton’ star calls Madison home
Jim Uphoff has been in the Broadway business long enough to see talent come and go.
When he worked backstage as a light technician, there was something memorable about any genuine actor he came across. That’s why, in a world of people pretending to be someone else, there was something special about Karen Olivo.
“There’s a lot of people with talent. Some people make it on that talent alone, and some people have to find a way to make that talent work for them, and she’s definitely the latter,” Uphoff said.
The two remained friends for years. Uphoff said he’d text her when he heard she’d scored a part or won a Tony. Those messages turned into a long-distance relationship. Then that grounded woman decided she wanted to plant herself somewhere new.
“I was sort of transitioning out of really chasing work and realizing that the good work shows up,” Olivo said. “You don’t have to hunt for it.”
Olivo ended her bicoastal life of acting jobs in New York and Los Angeles and moved to Madison. She married Uphoff and started a life relatively out of the spotlight.
“I think she was coming to grips with that and trying to figure out how to better balance professional life and the work life, and I think she saw an opportunity,” Uphoff said.
“It feels like a really good fit for me,” Olivo said.
Olivo started teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, directing at various theaters, and being a stepmom to Uphoff’s two children. But as she would say, the good work showed up.
Olivo said she and her husband hadn’t even gotten out of their pajamas when he saw the Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” was coming to Chicago.
“So I rolled over and I grabbed my phone and I emailed the director, and I was like, ‘You want me to audition? Would you like me to audition? Please?'” Olivo said.
Uphoff always knew moving to Madison didn’t mean his wife was retiring.
“It’s a very different lifestyle, a very different balance for me as well, but I mean, what great opportunities. It’s really hard to pass those up,” Uphoff said. “And this is about as good a situation as we could have hoped to have for her to be able to work at this level a couple of hours from Madison.”
A revolutionary opportunity
Olivo plays Angelica Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s strong-willed sister-in-law — a part she’s had a connection to long before the play was even penned.
Olivo starred alongside Lin Manuel Miranda in his first Broadway musical, “In The Heights.” She was his love interest on stage, but off stage, the two became friends. Olivo said when you’re friends with brilliant creators, like the head author of Hamilton, those people continue to come into your life.
“When he was creating this production, he realized he had already written something that he needed, and he realized that it was a song that he wrote for me,” Olivo said.
That song was supposed to be on an album, but part of it ended up in Angelica Schuyler’s song “Satisfied,” along with some signature Miranda-style rap lyrics.
“So it seemed kind of like cosmically, I was supposed to play it at some point,” Olivo said.
Uphoff said he’s still a fan of his wife and proud of every performance she does. He has seen her in “Hamilton” three times now.
“I get goosebumps every time. I well up every time. I know it’s coming and it still moves me emotionally,” Uphoff said. “And it’s not that I know her personally. I would do that whether I’d never met her before in my life or not.”
“I know that to be an actor in my time, to be a woman of color, to be able to do the thing that I trained to do and to be able to pay bills, I am incredibly fortunate,” Olivo said. “So there’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about that first and then like, and oh yeah, it happens to be “Hamilton.” That’s pretty cool too.”
From the spotlight to the Isthmus
Olivo said she drives back to Madison as much as possible after the Sunday matinee. Uphoff still works as a theater light technician in town, but she likes to tuck the kids in to bed.
Olivo plans to move back to Madison once her contract with “Hamilton” is up and pick up where she left off. She said she’d like to do more directing and writing, but said her true purpose is teaching.
“I am an educator, and the youth is, that is my legacy, all youth. And so imparting anything that I can on kids from all races and all backgrounds, I get that that’s my duty,” Olivo said. “Yeah, I’m an actor and I do this for a living to make money, but that’s not really why I was put here. I’ve figured that out in my journey in ‘Hamilton.'”
“It’s a natural fit. She’s great at it. She may be better at teaching than she is at acting, and she’s a really good actress,” Uphoff said. “So there’s going to be some lucky people out there who are going to remember working with her, and I think that’s great.”
Uphoff said there are no concrete plans for the family’s future, and that’s exciting for him and the kids. Why make plans, he figures, when that good work keeps showing up.
“To be able to leave that at the theater and be able to go home and have your best friend and your partner there by your side, it’s really the best of both worlds,” Uphoff said.
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