At yesterday’s matinee of “Hamilton,” the show did not have a single member of the original cast in a principal role. The only one who remains, Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison, was not performing, and in any case will play his final performance on December 24. So how has the show changed as a result? And how will it change when (as was announced yesterday) five new performers will take over some of the leads, four of them within the next month. (See details below.)
There are other questions as well.
Click on any photograph by Joan Marcus to see it enlarged.
Will the replacement cast generate some of the same excitement as the original leads, whose roles brought them awards, fame, fandom and a promising future?
What will be the future of the show? Will it wind up being a Broadway institution like “Phantom of the Opera,” or will the seeming indestructible juggernaut simply peter out, like “In The Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s last big success on Broadway, which was a critical and popular hit, but lasted only three years? (“In The Heights” has since gotten new life in productions elsewhere, including a London production that began in the Fall of 2015 and announced recently it will close next month.)
I feel it’s still too early to answer these questions, despite the quality of the show and its impressive current popularity, hype and marketing. But the special matinee I saw yesterday — performed before 1,300 New York City high school students — was a revelation.
I saw Javier Muñoz play Alexander Hamilton when he was the alternate, and felt that he played up Hamilton’s ambition, and played down the charisma that Lin-Manuel Miranda emphasized in his own performance. Yesterday, the new alternate, Michael Luwoye, performed the role. I had seen Luwoye play an eager and naive African student in the Off-Broadway production of “Invisible Thread.” Luwoye’s performance as Alexander Hamilton is striking; he plays him with a level of intensity that is sometimes fierce. He also gets a look of hurt in his eyes. This interpretation meshes well with Hamilton’s recklessness and also helps explain his drive. (Luwoye is also currently the understudy for Aaron Burr.)
Brandon Victor Dixon, who took over the role of Aaron Burr in August, came to national attention in November when (as the cast member portraying the third Vice President of the United States) he was chosen to read the letter to audience member Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Dixon is a Broadway veteran who made his debut in the original cast of The Color Purple and was one of the stars of Shuffle Along. His Burr strikes me as slyer and slicker than the way Leslie Odom Jr. played Burr — indeed closer to the way Daveed Diggs portrayed Jefferson (Seth Stewart, who was the original understudy of Lafayette and Jefferson, took over the roles in September.)
Mandy Gonzalez’s take on Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton’s sister-in-law, makes me see Angelica as less sophisticated and more emotional than the woman as played originally by Rene Elise Goldsberry. I hasten to add that her voice is heavenly, as is that of Lexi Lawson, who took over the role of Eliza Hamilton from Phillipa Soo in July.
Rory O’Malley, who made a splash as the “Turn It Off’ red-vested song-and-dance man from “The Book of Mormon,” is the third King George III, after Brian d’Arcy James Off-Broadway and Jonathan Groff in the Broadway transfer, followed by Andrew Rannells. (d’Arcy James left to star in “Something Rotten.“) O’Malley plays up the camp. In retrospect, d’Arcy James seemed more convincingly regal than his successors.
It’s worth pointing out that the King George role is the only one that could be seen as an example of star casting — the casting of performers who already have a fan following, which is the standard practice of such long-running hits as “Chicago.” Will “Hamilton” feel forced to go that route?
In the meantime, that’s not what’s happening. There seems little point in talking about the other principal replacement cast members I saw yesterday since they will soon themselves be replaced. But the lesson of the matinee was that these are roles that can be interpreted differently without changing the dynamic — and the appeal.
The schedule for the new new cast members:
Alysha Deslorieux, an original cast member who was previously the standby for Eliza Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler and Peggy Schuyler, begins as Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds on December 16 (tomorrow!)
J. Quinton Johnson, who appeared in Richard Linklater’s film “Everybody Wants Some,” will make his Broadway debut as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, beginning January 6.
Bryan Terrell Clark, a Yale School of Drama graduate who made his Broadway debut as Marvin Gaye in “Motown,” begins as George Washington on January 10.
Taran Killam, who was on Saturday Night Live for six years, will make his Broadway debut as King George on January 17 — the fifth King George III.
Anthony Lee Medina, who’s had numerous theater and TV credits, will make his Broadway debut as as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton sometime in March. Current cast member, Jordan Fisher will play his final performance March 5.