Talking to the Cast of Hamilton

We talk to three actors from the Hamilton international tour about their roles and the challenges of touring
Published: 23 May 2024
Brent Hill as King George

When it first staged in 2015, Hamilton was a portal into the interesting lives of America's found fathers. It was novel in its casting and musical infusion of hip-hop. Those outside of America, who were unable to catch it on Broadway or at the West End, were able to satiate their yen for the Tony Award-winning musical on the Disney+ streaming portal.

Now the touring production of Hamilton made its way to our shores. We follow the titular Alexander Hamilton (played by Jason Arrow) and his rise into the founding of America. We talk to Arrow, DeAundre Woods—who plays Aaron Burr, the "damn fool who shot" Hamilton—and Brent Hill, who plays the delightfully camp King George about Hamilton, their roles and the challenges of touring.

ESQUIRE: Given the popularity of Hamilton, how did you make the character your own?

JASON ARROW: At first, I did want to make the character fresh and put a slight spin on what was seen before by Lin but it did take a while for the team to come around to it [laughs]. Of course, it was my first professional leading role so I understand that trust needs to be built over time before drastic steps can be taken but I now feel like Hamilton is very much a sculptured version of what I originally wished for the part.

DEAUNDRE WOODS: This is a great question! As artists, we live and breathe to create. So of course, the first answer that comes to my head is "yes, I’ve made it my own as well as added some new insight". However, after being in this show for so long, I believe it is the material that has added new insight. 

These characters, this story, the music, the ideas, the wisdom, empathy... they have changed us. It’s given us a sense of our place and purpose here in society as well as insight into the future. There’s something about revisiting the past and planning for the future that creates so much hope for many around the world when seeing this show. I hope what we give on stage is a representation of who we are as a people at our core and what we can be someday if we do it together. 

Essentially, I wanted to add a lightness to the character within the first 15 to 20 minutes of the show to win the crowd over. This, of course, bleeds into the rest of the show as well. I reasoned that on Broadway, American patriotism carries Alexander a long way, in terms of, garnering audience support. In shows where, to most audiences, there isn’t a clear antagonist/protagonist arc, it’s essential to show all spectrums of humanity so that the audience can decide. That patriotic card does nothing for Alexander internationally so you have to approach it differently, but we got to that version eventually, which I’m happy about!

BRENT HILL: I’m just interested in playing the task of the role—which in this instance is playing a jilted lover who wants his betrothed to come back. [He needs to do this] without exposing any of his vulnerability or giving away [any] power, and the failure of that approach. With regards to portrayal, the strongest link for me at the moment is the satirising of egoically performative political rulers—subtly (or not so), perhaps of the orange variety.

ESQ: Were there any challenges when you were developing your characters?

JA: Trying to realise what this man looked and felt like when he existed in the 1800s. It’s so much easier creating someone who’s never existed because there’s no historical blueprint to go off. Whereas, with a show like Hamilton, there’s a tonne of literature to disprove your artistic choices! 

So, research is important but also going off the historical version of the story paints is important as well. You can use [the past] as a basis but at a certain point, the show guides the narrative so you have to flow with that, not against it, regardless of history.

While of course, not getting too bogged down in the history at the same time. We can read and understand but [those who were alive back then aren't here today] so we can’t talk with absolute certainty about how [Alexender] was or acted. We just have to make him as human and as relatable as possible. If we do that well enough then it will feel authentic and that’s what truly matters.

DW: I’ve been fortunate enough to play several characters in the show when I started as a standby. Each comes with its own asks and challenges; specifically, Burr, who was physically challenging. The idea of being still, yet engaged is so interesting to me. It seems as though you’re just “waiting for it” when in reality this action is strategic. It’s brilliant and I love his arc. Before I booked Hamilton, Aaron Burr was my dream role. I’m so thankful to be playing the part today! 

BH: Singing the same song melodically three individual times—which has a clever thematic point for our King George. He never quite changed his tune—and not mix up the lyrics in each appearance. A few holistic hieroglyphic memory approaches certainly help. (Also being able to sing full-tilt switch with thick-set heavy jewels on your head is more challenging than you might think!)

ESQ: Did you watch past shows of Hamilton's original staging or read the book that it's based on by Ron Chernow?

DW: Here and there, yes! I haven’t watched the Disney+ version in a while, but I’ve caught a few clips scrolling on YouTube and am still blown away by the work that was done to create this phenomenon. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants!

BH: Watched the filmed theatrical version when it came out—was very moved. We were fortunate enough to meet Ron earlier this year; his knowledge on all things A. Hamilton is insurmountable.

DW: I have indeed read the Chernow which is absolutely brilliant (still can’t believe [Lin-Manuel Miranda] had hip-hop running through his head when reading that). And I’ve also read [Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr by Nancy Isenberg] that is quite fascinating. [Aaron Burr] should have his own musical! 

JA: I watched Disney+ and read the Chernow biography, but mostly I studied how early life shapes humans. That’s what I got lost in—the psychology of what would happen to someone who, essentially, was left to their own devices at such a young age. That drastically shapes their identity and persona.

For example: Alexander had no family growing up and had to work very early on, which can create a dependency on that job for security in later life. It stands to reason that he had a terrible love life later and is dependent on his one constant: work and career.

ESQ: Are there any concerns when you are touring Hamilton

DW: They are far and wide. First, there is the upkeep of your mind and body. Staying in shape vocally and physically goes a long way when having to do eight shows a week! There’s also the sacrifice of time spent with your family and friends. It takes a lot of discipline to be consistent in this industry, but at the end of the day, it’s so rewarding! And we’re making a lot of dreams come true which is worth all the challenges that come with it.

JA: Acclimatising to new environments. The slightest difference in temperature, humidity, air quality and time zone can really affect your ability to perform in a show. It does seem like it’s easy but there is a lot of daily work that goes into putting on a show. We have a team that does it all to get us to where we need to be which helps us as we travel.

BH: Space affects performance. Humidity is a challenge, not just for body temperature regulation for three hours, but also for the voice to be able to produce a clear tone. We’ve all gotten exceedingly expert at landing in a place and finding the most nourishing options to enable the workload.

JA: Humidifiers, misters, dehumidifiers, to name a few, whatever we need to help us they do as much as they can to cater for which we are extremely grateful for!

ESQ: What do you want the audience to take away from Hamilton?

DW: We enjoy and welcome feedback from the crowd! Politeness has its place at the dinner table but when you're watching the show, leave all your manners at the door. Come to have a party, a celebration of the magic that is theatre and art. 

BH: We can only go as far as audience energy will allow. 

JA: As much as the show is known to be about American politics and its foundations, that's only used as a vehicle in the show. The heart of the story has a very human centre and is focused on themes and issues that we all face in life. It shows us that even these bold historical figures we tend to remember with such grandeur had some pretty blinding shortcomings and struggled to achieve their goals and desires.

The struggles of love, life and family are hugely present in Alexander’s character arc, you just have to pull on those threads to watch it unravel. See why this man, although hugely successful, did fail himself and his family at times.

Hamilton is showing at Sands Theatre until 9 June, 2024

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