Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Being Hamilton: Actor Utomi reflects before Toledo performances

Edred Utomi knew one night in 2010 that he wanted to be a musical theater performer. And it was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work that inspired him most.

Edred Utomi has performed as the title role in one of the touring productions of Hamilton since 2019. Photo courtesy: Cathy Long.

Utomi, who plays the title role in one of the three national touring companies of Miranda’s Hamilton, will take to the stage as the show begins a run at the Stranahan Theater on August 23. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Utomi was raised in Las Vegas. “My parents showed me a lot of musical theater, surprisingly, as a kid,” he said.

“My mom brought home Sound of Music one day, and we would pretty much watch that every day. I watched a ton of Disney movies growing up. There’s a South African musical my parents showed me that we had the VHS for called Ipi N’tombi, that I used to watch almost every day, as well. So I think, just watching all of these, I just started to fall in love with it.”

Blow Us All Away

He didn’t even see a show live until he was maybe 18, when his folks took him to see a production of The Lion King. Even though Utomi had a deep love of the genre, he’d never really considered trying to be a performer himself— until he attended a performance of In the Heights, the first Broadway show that Lin-Manuel Miranda had written.

“It was after my first year of college, and I had saved up all my money from my summer job and I had bought me, my brother and my only sister three tickets. And we were [in] orchestra [seats], and it was the most expensive purchase I had ever made,” Utomi said.

“I remember, I sat in row G, and I was, like, blown away, and I was smiling the entire time. I was so wrapped up and invested in the story. And my face hurt at the end of it, and I was like, ‘Why does my face hurt?’ And they’re like, ‘That’s because you were smiling for three hours straight.”

My Shot

Utomi was down the theater rabbit hole after that. After graduating college in 2013, he began to perform in regional productions around San Diego, where he’d attended school. He got as much experience as he could, hoping for that big break. Around that time, a new show by Miranda began to be performed in New York— a certain hip-hop/R&B musical about oft-forgotten founding father Alexander Hamilton.

“I had made a deal with myself, a promise to myself, that after college, in five years, I would be on Broadway. That was my goal, I set a very lofty goal, obviously. But it was the type of thing where I was like, ‘Let me shoot for the moon, and if I miss, I hit the stars,’” Utomi said.

It was 2018, the last year of his five-year deadline, when he took his shot. He headed from San Diego to New York, and very quickly, he booked a stand-by role— filling in as an understudy for featured performers— in Hamilton itself. For nine months, Utomi would cover performances as George Washington, Aaron Burr and even the title role. Then, in January 2019, he took over as Hamilton full-time for the touring production.

The Story of Tonight

Performing around the country, Utomi has gained a firsthand perspective on what has made Hamilton a phenomenon for audiences. “As I learned the show from a lot of different angles, originally, I just kept being blown away by how brilliant it all was. The writing, the orchestrations, the direction. You can watch this show 50 times and learn something new every single time you watch it, depending on what you watch, depending on where you watch at any given moment.

“I remember I was two, three months in and I was watching the opening number, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen that before!’ How had I never seen that before? I’ve watched this every night for three months and I’ve never seen that!”

Utomi cited his fellow cast members for their tireless efforts to make the show a memorable experience for every audience, no matter how many times they themselves have performed their roles.

“There’s such a commitment to doing the show excellently every night, and in a new and fresh and exciting way. There’s just such a commitment to that. So it never really gets old for us, or boring for us, because every night it feels new. It feels like the first time we’re telling the story, you know?”

Take a Break

That commitment extends to Utomi himself. He spends most of his time on the road relaxing, trying to save his energy for performance. He’ll go out and take in the community now and then, but for the most part he is committed to giving his all once the stage lights go up.

“I want to be able to give the best show I can every night. I never want an audience member to feel like, ‘Oh, that Hamilton felt tired,’” Utomi said. “So my days are normally pretty chill. I wake up, I’ll kinda just hang out, watch some TV, play some video games, eat some breakfast or lunch, you know? I definitely will get a workout in.”

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

Given the long delays thanks to COVID, Utomi said he hopes Toledo audiences find everything they want in his company’s production of the beloved musical.

“Our show deals with a lot and goes through a lot. Sometimes people need a cathartic release, sometimes people need to come and sing along to some songs, sometimes people need to check out from their lives, or whatever the case may be. So I hope that they get a good story.

“I always hear people going, ‘How is it doing the role that Lin did?’ And I’m like, it’s great! I love the role. Me and Lin do it very differently. So I hope people come with an open mind to our version of the show, and I think they’ll enjoy it.”

Above all, though, Utomi hopes to pass along a love of not just this show, but musical theater as a whole— just as it was passed to him in 2010.

“A lot of the time, I tear up at curtain call, because I know there is somebody as young as I was seeing In the Heights sitting in the audience watching us do it. And for me, I will try to inspire others like I was inspired at that age. I hope that there’s a young college student sitting in the audience, staring up at our cast and being like, ‘Wow! I want to do what they do.’ Because I was there, not too long ago.”

Hamilton
$49-229.

August 23-September 4
Stranahan Theater and Great Hall
4645 Heatherdowns Blvd.
419-381-8851
stranahantheater.com

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