Interview: Edred Utomi of HAMILTON at Saenger Theatre

Show runs through July 10th

By: Jul. 05, 2022

The Broadway phenomenon that is HAMILTON is back in the Crescent City. This epic, historical reimaging by Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently running at the Saenger Theatre now through July 10th. As one of the most impactful musicals to ever hit the bar, the question isn't so much are you going, but when are you going. sat down with Alexander himself, Edred Utomi, to talk all things about his role as one of our Founding Fathers.

Tell me about your theatrical background and how it led you to achieve this iconic role.

I started theatre professionally after I graduated college from the University of San Diego in 2015. I did a lot of shows out in San Diego regionally for about five years; Once on this Island, Big River, Shrek the musical. I did a lot of musicals over the course of five years. I got my equity card, and I decided to move to New York to give it a try. I was pretty young, this was 2017-2018 time, and I was in New York for a very brief amount of time, and I got an audition for HAMILTON the show. They needed an immediate replacement for the standby role who would know Washington, Burr and Hamilton. And I auditioned, and I booked it. I booked it on February 1st and debuted as Hamilton [on] March 13th.

Is this a dream role for you?

You know, I actually never thought I would play Hamilton. I thought I would be in the show at some point. I thought I would be Lafayette/Jefferson or something, but never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that I would be touring the country as Hamilton himself. So, it is a dream come true in every sense of the phrase.

What was the moment like for you when you realized your dream had come true?

It was wild. I had been in New York for about one month when I got the call, and I had auditioned for the past two weeks. And I hadn't told my family other than my brother, who was living with me, just because I didn't want to jinx it. It's the type of thing where it's like, 'okay, you're going to go in for Hamilton.' Everyone I had known who had gone in before had been in seven or eight times. You know, it was my first real-time in the room, so I was like, 'I'm going to keep it close to the vest, I'm not going to tell anybody, I'm just going to see what happens' and when I got the call I was blown away. I knew it would turn my world upside down. Honestly, it was one of the greatest days of my life, and it was a culmination of everything that I had worked for and my family, who had sacrificed and worked for me to get to where I was. So, it was a whole moment, not just for me but for my entire family.

How do you personally connect with Hamilton?

You know Hamilton's an immigrant, and my parents are immigrants, and so I think I felt through my understanding of the role through my parents. My parents came here from Nigeria with three kids and then had two more; I'm the youngest of five. And they came here not knowing anybody, but they came with a dream...and they showed us what hard work and determination how far they can get you. So, when I think about the role, Alexander Hamilton is a person who is very concerned with legacy. It's a theme throughout the show, and I think that is one of the prevailing things my parents instilled in me unknowingly. We didn't talk about legacy as a concept, but it's the idea of how you want to be remembered, how you should treat people in the day-to-day, things like that. I think how I connect to him stems from my roots. I definitely connect with the fact that he wanted to do something before his time came to an end, which I think we all can connect with.

What are your thoughts on Hamilton's character arc throughout the show?

Utomi: I think it's a very human one. He starts as the new kid in town, is very glittery and sparkly, and everyone wants to figure out what he's about, and he brings new energy into their culture. The way the show is done, everyone's prim and proper to a certain extent, and he comes in like a bull in a China shop. And he has to learn a little bit of their ways, and they have to understand his way because he makes them understand.
But by the end of Act I, he's achieved everything he was trying to achieve, and you want to think of him of as 'oh this guy's a superhero.' But the higher the climb, the longer the fall. I think by the end of the show, he's humbled...he starts making missteps on the path to greatness in the way that he's always been ambitious. His ambition starts to bite him a little in the butt. I think it's a really interesting arc...but at the end of the day, the legacy is the totality of your entire existence on earth. It's not just your bad moments; it's not just your good moments. The question is, essentially, who tells the legacy? At the end of the day, do the cons outweigh the pros, or do the pros outweigh the cons?

What sort of character work did you do prior to starting rehearsals?

I learned this role, and at the time I originally learned it, I also, in my head, knew that I was about to learn Washington and Burr. It was cool to examine why they were different, especially with Hamilton and Burr, because, at times, they seem so similar; they're very much two sides of the same coin. So, I think that's kind of the initial how my understanding of him came about, but through the years, my process with him has really been boiling down the core of the story we're trying to tell with this character, and then everything is filtered through hip hop as well.

So, I think the story's core is a rags-to-riches story, which is the American dream. It's pulling you up by your bootstraps, as some people say it. This idea of coming from nothing and becoming something...When I figured that out, all my choices filtered through it being a hip-hop show, so I had to bring the hip-hop element and culture into the role. And also filtered through my understanding of what an immigrant goes through when they come to a new country. I think that was my process of breaking it down moment to moment in the show. How would an immigrant respond to this line? How would they experience this moment? That was my initial pull to him. I saw so much of my parents in him and the struggle to be more than who you are, and they definitely did, so it was very easy for me to connect with him because I saw the beginning and finished product of it all.

What expectations come with the part, and how do you approach them?

This question has changed a lot throughout my time in HAMILTON. I think now my expectation is just to give an honest portrayal. I'm no Lin-Manuel Miranda; I'm not going to be doing a Lin-Manuel Miranda impression, nor is any other Hamilton that you'll see. I think it's just telling the story we're trying to tell as a company as truthfully and as honestly as we can every night. That's the expectation for me. I'm a perfectionist, so I have my own things I want to hit every night intention-wise and things that the audience may not see, understand, or pick up on. I want to tell my story as truthfully as possible. I want people to be moved and to question their own lives. I want it to be a cathartic experience, whatever the audience needs it to be while telling this story of this great but also flawed man as truthfully as possible.


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