(Hamilton cast on stage. Photo by Joan Marcus)
By Jerome Langston
“It’s been going really well. The audiences are really fantastic. They’re just as energized and excited as they’ve ever been, which is a testament to Hamilton,” says actor/singer Blaine Alden Krauss, who portrays the principal role of Aaron Burr in the Philip cast, for the North American tour of Hamilton. The actor calls me from Boston, where the Philip company of the Broadway touring show is playing the Citizens Bank Opera House. He has two performances of the iconic musical to prepare himself for later today, but you would never know it by his calm, chill demeanor. The Florida native, who has been living and working in NYC since 2015, really enjoys the touring life, despite its rigor. “It’s great to be in awesome cities, and to experience the cities themselves…and have the opportunity to get to know the people,” he later says.
Hamilton will begin its run at Norfolk’s storied Chrysler Hall in late March, before the Philip show cast hits Richmond. Hampton Roads last got to experience this cultural phenomenon, back in December of 2019, just a few months before the pandemic would transform our collective lives for the worse. That run, which of course was the first time that Hamilton played in this market, was one of the most successful Broadway show runs in Norfolk. My sister was my plus one for opening night…and as I’ve been privileged to have seen a substantial number of Broadway shows—I can undoubtedly say that I’d never experienced that level of high energy and audience excitement for a show.
And we know that Virginia’s response to Hamilton was no anomaly. Only a very few Broadway shows have become a cultural phenomenon—transcending the typical reach of the Great White Way. The musical attracted an astonishingly wide spectrum of fans: including theater nerds, hip hop enthusiasts, politicians on both the political left and right, suburban housewives…seemingly a large amount of every demographic enjoyed it—which has led to its record-breaking success on Broadway, and its ubiquity in American popular culture. Specifically, this dazzling show about the life of Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury and one of its founding fathers, won 11 Tony awards out of a record-breaking 16 nominations in 2016. It is also the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and for its hugely popular cast album, it won a Grammy. And with its many popular musical numbers, including “My Shot,” “You’ll Be Back,” and “One Last Time,” the Hamilton cast album is the best-selling cast album of all time. The original Broadway production is still packing them into the Richard Rodgers Theatre nightly, while productions of the show in major international cities like London and Toronto, are also still popular.
The now famous playwright, Lin-Manuel Miranda, wrote the music, lyrics and book for Hamilton, after being inspired to create some type of art about Alexander Hamilton, after reading the acclaimed 2004 Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow. That birth some years later, his Hamilton Mixtape and performing at the Obama White House as part of a poetry and spoken word program, back in May 2009. Eventually that led to workshops of the burgeoning musical, which led to its off-Broadway premiere at The Public Theater in February of 2015. It opened on Broadway at the aforementioned Richard Rodgers Theatre on August 6, 2015, where it played to sold-out audiences, and continued to earn practically universal raves from critics.
Most of the off-Broadway cast of principals reprised their roles on Broadway, including Lin-Manuel as Alexander Hamilton, Christopher Jackson as George Washington, Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr, and Daveed Diggs in the dual roles of Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette. They all delivered Tony Award nominated performances. And director Thomas Kail, who is a Virginia native, directed both the off-Broadway and Broadway productions of the musical. His artistry earned him the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical.
While the Hamilton phenomenon was chugging along, Blaine was simply a fan of the show, like most of us. After graduating from college, he landed the coveted role of Simba in the touring production of The Lion King, but never thought that he’d act in Hamilton, due to its rawness and authenticity relative to its origin story. “It’s one of those shows that I never thought I’d be in,” he tells me. Well despite that, in late 2019 he joined the Philip cast touring show, as the standby for Hamilton, Burr and King George III. The show of course shut down in early 2020 due to the pandemic, but once it returned, he resumed his work in the cast. “It’s a unique thing to get to play both, and see both, and understand both—as an actor,” Blaine says. After a year though, he left for other opportunities, but is now back starring in the principal role of Aaron Burr, the show’s complicated antagonist and narrator, and a classic foil to Hamilton. He’s starring in the role for a temporary, months-long run.
“To get to do Aaron Burr full-time, versus as a standby, is obviously amazing,” Blaine says, towards the end of our chat. The multi-hyphenate has also had stand-out roles in FX’s “Pose,” and played the lead role of Lola in Kinky Boots. I ask him why he believes that Hamilton has been such an unparalleled success over these years. The actor explains that so many different types of people see themselves in this show, which makes it particularly special. “Hamilton meets you where you’re at.”
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March 28-April 9