Leslie Odom Jr., who left the show after his Tony-winning turn as Aaron Burr, recently compared its earlier days — in workshops, Off-Broadway, and its Broadway debut — as “like drugs” in its frenzied energy and creativity. But now, he added, the work has become more that of “a custodian.”
To that end, Odom recruited Brandon Victor Dixon for the role over Instagram, but Dixon was already in talks with Hamilton higher-ups, who had considered him for the show’s earlier iterations. Dixon spent the summer wrapping up his own Tony-nominated role in Shuffle Along, a musical about a 1921 Broadway game-changer in its own right.
Dixon was poached by Hamilton over the show’s current three — three! — understudies for the role. The casting director has been considering folks who can sing Adele – and Dixon certainly has no problems there. Rolling Stone caught up with him as he prepares to take his shot.
You knew you were going to start rehearsing for Hamilton even while you were finishing Shuffle Along until it closed July 24. What was that juggling act like?
I worked to remain present at Shuffle Along but my mind was already drifting farther back in time, from 1921 to 1776.
What has you the most excited? The most nervous?
I’m not nervous about any of it. I’m excited for “Wait For It,” “The Room Where It Happens,” “Guns & Ships,” all those narrative introductions.
There’s also elaborate Tony-winning choreography.
I saw it in October and noticed it, of course, but it was such an experience. And I wasn’t thinking about it with the expectation that it would be asked of me one day.
There’s a moment in “The Room Where It Happens,” for example, when Leslie runs in a circle at an angle and hops into a chair with his feet up on a desk. That’s damn hard.
Well now you’re getting me nervous! [Laughs]
If you were going to be nervous, it would’ve happened by now. There are two musicals that have been cover stories this year for the New York Times Magazine: Hamilton and Shuffle Along. You’re the thread now between them, these, literally, historic productions. What’s that like?
You know, my first ever show I saw was Ragtime. And when I did The Scottsboro Boys, Motown, y’know, I’m comfortable in history, in the opportunity to share history, and to live it. To give it life.
Christopher Jackson, [who plays George Washington], says that a lot: putting blood in the statues.
Yes. I’ve never replaced before. But it was so much material, so much, well, history, an entire world on its own.
Has it hit you yet? The frenzy of the whirlwind around that show?
I went by the theater on the Saturday when Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo and Leslie Odom Jr. all had their final performance.
That was a big day to go!
Well, I didn’t really think about it. They just wanted to meet about something and that’s when I was free. And, right, it was a big day. News vans. Crowds. Everything. I knew the show was big, but I didn’t realize how big.
So how big is it?
Big, man! Big! [Laughs]
Are you ready for that wild cast? They drink shots from that Grammy they earned.
I did The Color Purple with Renée [Elise Goldsberry] way back. It’s been an extraordinary journey. And I know C-Jackson way back. Ephraim [Sykes], Sasha [Hutchings], all those performers. We knew each other in workshops, Williamstown [Theatre Festival], all coming up over the years. We’re going to have fun. And, look, they called me in for a reason. I’m not going to disappoint anybody. I’m going to embrace, listen and learn. It’s gonna be a good time.
And you get to do Ham4Ham. Anything in mind for your debut there?
I have not even begun to think about it, but I’ll shout you out when I do my first one!
What are the differences between the shows? How are you using Shuffle Along to help navigate Hamilton?
Shuffle is such an emotional show. That level of layering is expressive in such a powerful way. With Hamilton, I had really just met with the music team, getting the songs into my head, into my bones, but I’m looking forward to understanding the syntax there, the colors and the expression – the tools to illuminate the story. Now, in rehearsals, I realize how complicated of a show it is. It’s all about taking two steps to the left because someone’s leg is swinging through the air here.
Leslie often talked about Burr’s humanity. Have you found that, too?
I’ve never seen Burr as a villain or an asshole. He was beloved by many and extraordinarily charismatic. There’s just a difficulty in coming to terms with this someone else in your life. Burr is a lot like Hamilton, but there’s almost an envy to how Hamilton plays the game, his freedom.
What kind of impact has the announcement had in your personal life?
I have nieces — 11, 9 and 5 — in elementary school in Richmond. They have done most of the announcing. They are so excited.
Has it sunk in for you yet? What was it like being fitted for Burr’s purple suit?
I haven’t been fitted yet.
You know how good you’re gonna look? Maybe the “sexy Burr” talk is real.
Well, anything purple is divine, right?
Look what God has done!
Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s a blessing.