Two notable actors — including a star from “Hamilton” — never forgot their Benicia roots. And their middle school teacher, Cathy Wright, undoubtedly never forgot Austin Scott and Isaiah Boyd. Not by a long shot.
So when Wright found a few days open last week, she and her son, Cooper, and her brother, Adam, jumped on a plane, caught her two former students on Broadway, and returned still on Cloud 9 — and if there were such thing as Cloud 10, that’s what she’s on.
Die a happy woman now? Maybe not at 54. But it’s close, hints Wright, in the middle of her 29th year teaching drama at Benicia Middle School.
“It was absolutely perfect,” Wright said Monday of the reunion. “I’m so happy. It was the very best.”
Scott catapulted to stardom as Alexander Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heralded production. After a respite, he snagged the role of Joe Scott in “Girl From The North Country,” at the Belasco Theatre in New York City with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan.
The Benicia High School graduate starred for two years in the title role of Hamilton on Broadway and National Tour. He recently completed filming a principal role in Tyler Perry’s upcoming Netflix feature film, “A Jazzman’s Blues.”
Meanwhile, Boyd, 27, landed an ensemble role in the nine-time Tony Award-winning musical, “Book of Mormon” at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. He was also in the TV movie, “A Christmas Surprise,” and the TV series, “She’s Gotta Have It.”
Not bad for the young actors’ resumés — or Wright’s legacy.
“It’s every teacher’s dream to have their students do well,” she said. “And it doesn’t get much better than Broadway. I’m so proud of them.”
Settling into her $150-a-show seats, Wright said watching her former students excel “was just amazing. I felt like, ‘This really can’t be happening.’”
Wright recalled her two star students when they were back at Benicia Middle School.
Scott had already started tap dancing and voice lessons as a little kid.
“He came in groomed for the stage,” Wright said. “Then he got ‘really cool’ in middle school and did basketball.”
It wasn’t a stretch to predict stardom for Scott, said Wright.
“He was 100% brilliant back then,” she said. “I never heard him sing in middle school, only act. His No. 1 skill was improv. He could come up with something so quick and on the spot. Simply amazing.”
Boyd, however, took a different route. When Wright met him, he was in sixth grade and a year away from enrolling in her drama class. Wright found Boyd sitting outside, horribly upset about being bullied by other students.
“I was so angry. I had never been that angry,” Wright said, adding that through middle school “Isaiah’s best friends were all teachers. He knew they would be the people who protected him.”
Boyd “had an incredible voice from spending early years singing in church with his granny and mom,” Wright said, recalling that in her musical theater class of 60, Boyd was the only male “and he was amazing. He would say to me, ‘I’m a terrible actor,’ but he was a good actor. It just was that his singing and dancing were his front-runners.”
Wright said her fondness for Boyd didn’t end when he graduated from middle school.
“I absolutely love him. He’s just the sweetest,” she said.
After Boyd’s “Book of Mormon” performance over the weekend, he posted a photo of himself having dinner with Wright, noting “Last night my middle school drama teacher came to the show. I wouldn’t be here without her.”
Wright remembered when Boyd first informed her he secured a role in the high-profile musical funfest.
“He said, ‘Cathy, are you sitting down? I’ll never believe what I’m about to do. I’m in Book of Mormon.’”
Fast forward to pre-show dinner this weekend. Boyd excuses himself so he could get to “call time” at the theatre.
“We get ready to leave and the waitress comes up and says, ‘That young man has paid for your meal.’ That was super special,” Wright said.
It was pre-COVID when Wright saw Scott star in “Hamilton” in San Diego.
“He put his arms out and said ‘My middle school teacher’s here!’” grinned Wright.
Yes, it was an experience she won’t forget.
“Seeing my little middle school students on Broadway was the peak of my 29 years of teaching,” Wright said. “And I’m not just being dramatic.”
After Wright returned home to Benicia, there was no post-Broadway depression. Far from it.
“Oh my gosh, it was so awesome,” she said. “I’m totally fulfilled and happy, absolutely. I just love to see my students do it (act), love doing it and enjoy doing it.”
Wright said she “would love” to have her two prized former students return to Benicia Middle School to discuss acting with current students.
“I tried to arrange it with Austin to do a Zoom, but it didn’t quite work out,” Wright said. “And Isaiah did come back two years ago and taught my class, talking about what it’s like to audition and what to do if you get rejected. And he sang ‘Over the Rainbow.’”
Wright laughed that even when Boyd told her about performing in “Book of Mormon,” her maternal instincts surfaced.
“I would always tell him, ‘Just get health insurance,’” she said.