OnStage Massachusetts Columnist
I thought long and hard about this piece. While I agree with Chris Peterson’s take on Wayne Brady being cast in Hamilton, I feel there are some other points to consider. It’s not simply stunt casting, it’s not taking a shot away from someone else, it’s giving the opportunity of a lifetime to a deserved actor.
I agree with Chris- Hamilton doesn’t need to rely on stunt casting. There’s no shortage of people ready and willing to see Hamilton regardless of who’s in what role. While some may see casting Wayne Brady and perhaps to a lesser extent James Monroe Iglehart (stepping into the role of Lafayette/Jefferson in the NYC production in mid-April) as stunt casting I don’t buy that as the only reason. Hamilton is an extremely high-profile show, to step into any role is to have a bulls-eye on your back. Not that the show would suffer but the actors reputation could suffer for any small mishap, never mind taking on a role only to fall flat on your face. I think both men are keenly aware if they fail, they fail huge.
Wayne Brady’s casting in particular stumped me at first. I know him as a comedic actor from Who’s Line. He did take a turn in Kinky Boots which has some darker moments but is still a largely comedic role. To pictures Wayne Brady as Aaron Burr, a serious, pivotal role (which to me is more demanding than Hamilton) my knee-jerk reaction was “umm, no”. But it could be that Wayne is ready to step out of his comfort zone, to test his acting chops. Is it fair to deny him that chance?
To speak to Chris’ point that the chance to star in Hamilton is a career-making opportunity, he is completely right. But why should that chance be reserved only for an unknown? Wayne Brady will only inhabit the role for 4 months. Hamilton will run in Chicago for 40 years (exaggeration). If each actor playing Burr stays for a year, that means there’s 40 more life and career-making breaks to come. And that’s just the Chicago run to say nothing of New York, London, touring productions and who knows how many additional cities will find themselves a permanent host of Hamilton in the future.
Much has been said about Hamilton’s diverse casting and how the show provides phenomenal opportunities for actors of color because it’s absolutely true. As a friend pointed out, Wayne and James could have absolutely lobbied for the chance to perform in the show for that very reason.
The answer to why Wayne Brady (and any subsequent big names) has been cast in Hamilton probably lies somewhere between Chris’ take and mine. Regardless, with all the pressure and expectations heaped upon those connected to Hamilton, anyone accepting a role must really want it and they better be prepared.