The 28-year-old actor fulfills his goal nightly as Alexander Hamilton in the touring company of the hit musical sensation. The Broadway production, which has won 11 Tony Awards and earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2016, recently made headlines when Disney purchased the rights to a filmed theatrical version featuring the original cast for $75 million for release in 2021.
A native of California and the son of Nigerian immigrants, Utomi graduated from the University of San Diego so recently there are still YouTube videos of him performing in school shows. Working in regional theatrical productions for several years to build a resumé, he left for New York City in 2018 with one goal in mind: to book Hamilton. "That was the dream," Utomi says. "Anyone who knew me in San Diego knew that was everything I wanted. I'm a firm believer in speaking your dream into existence. Hamilton was all I talked about — not in a cocky way, but to say that was my goal. I moved because I felt that I was ready to be in Hamilton."
Utomi's dream was fulfilled when in February 2018, he was cast in the Angelica Tour, one of the two current U.S. touring productions of Hamilton, as an understudy for the roles of Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson/Lafayette, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton. A year later, Utomi ascended to the role of Hamilton.
The expectations that come with the character — originally played by Lin-Manuel Miranda — aren’t lost on him. However, Utomi, who admits to being a "superfan" of the Hamilton creator and star, says his job is to bring his personal experiences to the role. "I tell the story the way I connect to it as the son of Nigerian immigrants. I tell the story as truthfully as I can," Utomi explains. "We're not here to imitate. I can't do a Lin impression, so I hope people come with an open mind."
Regardless of what the audience expects, the actor says his truth echos that of the young Hamilton trying to make his mark on the world. "Hamilton is the story of a man who came to New York with nothing and became something. It's the classic rags-to-riches story. We all want to work and create great things so we can be remembered."
Utomi also finds depth in playing his character, who ages 30 years as the production progresses. "In Act I, Hamilton has energy. He's bouncing off the walls. He wants to go to war and die in a blaze of glory." The second act sees a different man, according to Utomi. "He's married into society. He's Washington's right hand. He wants to find something to live for." Utomi says he worked with director Thomas Kail to find his character arc. "I like to think of Hamilton as a fighter who can think, who then turns into a thinker who can fight."
The actor also believes that audiences, regardless of their experience with theater, will connect with Hamilton. "This is a great show to bring people to the theater. It's a blend of hip-hop along with traditional theatrical songs." Hamilton, he says, is one of many musicals eschewing the stereotype of catering to older, white, and affluent theatergoers. "I have heard theater people saying that we have to start playing to younger audiences. If you start someone on a path to living the theater at a young age, you get them to follow for three or more decades." To make the mission of accessibility a reality, Hamilton offers a nightly lottery drawing for $10 tickets, and through its EduHam program, it offers high school students tickets for the same price.
However, given the hype surrounding Hamilton, Utomi says his wish for Miami theatergoers is simply to have no expectations and be open to the experience. He recommends listening to Act I of the soundtrack before showtime but warns against listening any further. "Act II has spoilers," he says.
Ultimately, Utomi says the goal is to have fun. "Art is fluid, and there's a connective tissue between the audience and the players. We will have fun if you guys have fun."
Finally, he suggests discarding the belief that the theater is a stuffy affair. "Enjoy it and invest in it. Some people have cheered [during Hamilton]. If you think a line is funny, please laugh. There's no need to play it cool... The best thing we can do is leave you with memories and something to think about."
Hamilton: An American Musical. Tuesday, February 18, through Sunday, March 15, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $70 to $399.