Chris De’Sean Lee hated history when he was in high school and in his early years of college. Lee, who portrays Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the musical “Hamilton,” doesn’t associate history with boredom anymore.
In fact, he got so excited when Newberry Library curator Will Hansen showed him a letter Jefferson had written to his 15-year-old daughter that his phone slipped through his fingers as he attempted to take a photo of the third president’s handwriting.
The letter, in which Jefferson reprimands his daughter for spending too much money while living in a Paris convent, humanizes a historic man who also was a parent, Lee said.
“That’s him being a dad beyond the politics,” he said. “That’s just something like my mom being able to say to me, ‘Hey, let me know before you’re going to use my credit card.’”
Friday, Lee and actress Ari Afsar, who portrays Eliza Hamilton, visited “The History Behind the Musical,” an exhibit about Alexander Hamilton that runs through March 9.
The private tour allowed them to detach from the characters they play at The PrivateBank Theatre most every night and see letters, manuscripts and other historic documents detailing Hamilton’s early years. They looked at a manual about dueling, written before Hamilton died at the hands of his rival Aaron Burr. There also examined a pamphlet confessing Hamilton’s extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds and denying he misused power when he was treasury secretary.
Lee, who read biographies of Jefferson and Lafayette cover to cover as he prepared to perform his roles, was particularly interested in learning about the chronology of key events and wanted to see if the nearly three-hour musical gets it right.
“I was wondering if everything was in the same order as our show,” Lee said. “I learned that we were pretty much in the same time for the most part.”
Afsar, who also has found a passion for history, is happy the musical is able to teach those who don’t necessarily enjoy the subject.
The actress said she enjoys “getting to tell the story in a very different way. History — especially as a child — is a hard subject for some individuals. That’s one of the most beautiful things that I’m able to be a part of: is retelling history that can inspire kids.”