The stage at The Straz Center is set for the highly anticipated return of the hit musical “Hamilton.”
It’s been nearly three years since the touring company first brought Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show to Tampa in 2019. After lots of pandemic-related rescheduling, the blockbuster opens Dec. 28 and runs through Jan. 22 with a new Hamilton, the actor Edred Utomi.
“Hamilton” is based on the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton, based on the biography by Ron Chernow. People of color are cast as the founding fathers and the voluminous soundtrack blends hip-hop, R&B and Broadway.
Utomi, 31, joined the cast of the national touring company in 2018 as a standby covering the roles of Hamilton, George Washington, Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson. But in 2019, he got the full-time role of Alexander Hamilton, or “A dot Ham,” as he calls him.
“It was wild. It was like an actual dream come true,” Utomi said in a phone interview.
Raised in San Diego, Utomi got into acting on the advice of his older brother, to take theater as an elective in high school. But it was when he saw a touring production of “In the Heights,” Miranda’s first musical that also stars actors of color, that he knew he wanted to pursue acting as a profession.
While Utomi didn’t get to work directly with Miranda, whom he considers an idol, he was able to meet him when he first took on the role. He asked Miranda for feedback on playing the role. Utomi said he was “gracious and generous,” and said Miranda doesn’t usually give feedback.
“I think he’s very respectful of each person’s process and he’s like, it’s yours now,” Utomi said. “The show is ours and we get to do our own take on it.”
As the child of Nigerian immigrants living in the U.S., Utomi relates to the character of Hamilton, who came to this country from the West Indies.
“I identify with him a lot,” he said. “I think the beauty of the story is that we all can connect to the idea of wanting to create a positive legacy for ourselves after we have left and this idea of trying to strive to achieve something greater than ourselves.”
He continued: “Here’s a guy who came to a nation that he wasn’t originally from and he wanted to do big, great things and everything that came along with that, you know, there’s missteps, there’s mistakes, there’s successes, there’s triumphs, there’s everything in between so ... when I look at the character I see him as a human. Yeah, of course, he did bad things and made mistakes ... but it’s how we learn from them.”
Like all theater, the pandemic shut this production down for a whopping 18 months. At a certain point, realizing that it would be a while before the production resumed, Utomi felt like he might have to let the role go. But that provided him a unique opportunity to bring something new to the character.
“When I came back, it was an opportunity to really re-examine the character with the mind that I have now, not the mind that I had when I was three years younger,” he said. “It’s rare that you get to do something like that. And in the rehearsal process, kind of build this character again from the ground up.”
The full-circle moment of being inspired by Miranda’s first musical and then starring in his most famous one is not lost on Utomi.
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“I get to be in a show that hopefully will inspire the next generation of young actors of color,” he said. “Every night at curtain call I get chills and I get teary-eyed because I’m just like, man, I hope somebody’s out there getting the same feeling I got. That’s my dream and that’s my hope and that’s what keeps me going to work every day. It’s just the opportunity to hopefully inspire even a single person.”
If you go
“Hamilton” runs Dec. 28-Jan. 22. Digital lotteries for a limited number of $10 tickets begin each Friday and close the following Thursday for the upcoming week’s performances. Tickets start at $49, which is subject to increase due to demand. David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N Macinnes Place, Tampa. 813-229-7827. strazcenter.org.