When news broke earlier this week about actor/comedian/singer Wayne Brady stepping into the role of Aaron Burr in the Chicago cast of “Hamilton,” the reaction was ecstatic for most theater fans, and perhaps a bit confusing for others.
He may be best-known for his television improv work on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” or guest appearances on “How I Met Your Mother” or his role as Uncle Louis on “Everybody Hates Chris.” Or for his hosting duties on the daytime game show revamp of “Let’s Make a Deal” (which is in its 8th season), or for his sold-out comedy world tour “Makin’ S–t Up.” But more importantly — listen up, stage fans — Brady has been performing in the theater for decades, including productions of “Rent,” “A Chorus Line,” and most recently his critically acclaimed turns on Broadway as Lola in “Kinky Boots” and Billy Flynn in “Chicago.” According to Chicago Suntimes.
This is really happening! I’m so glad to be in a business where I can still feel like a kid on Xmas everyday! pic.twitter.com/O6wkz8dpiw
— Wayne Brady (@waynebrady) January 10, 2017
And though he says he and “Hamilton” creator/star Lin-Manuel Miranda have been friends for years, the Aaron Burr role came about through the usual process.
“I auditioned,” Brady said, after a daylong “Hamilton” rehearsal Tuesday (his final dress rehearsal is Jan. 13; he takes over the role officially on Jan. 17). “My audition was just as good if not better than anyone else who auditioned. This was not nepotism. The truth is, if I sucked, I wouldn’t be getting this role. Why would [the producers] damage the role [or jeopardize] the show? … There’s no big name above the marquee saying, hey ‘Come see Wayne Brady in Hamilton!’ This is one show that will fly if it is Jimmy from Timbuktu in the role — as long as Jimmy is talented enough to do it. I had to kick ass to make the point as to why they should hire me.”
Brady revealed the road to Burr was a long one, though things ultimately — and quickly — unfolded late last year.
“I’ve wanted to do [this role] for years,” Brady said. “Lin and I hang in the same theater circles, along with [“Hamilton”] director Tommy Kail. And I told them I wanted so badly to try out for this role. So we had been in talks for a year for the New York production. I auditioned for Lin and Tommy. Everybody has to audition. They know what I do [theatrically]. And I said, ‘I want this badly enough — I’ll show you I can do this stuff.’ So you humble yourself and you do your best. But it ended up not working out for me because of my shooting schedule for “Let’s Make a Deal.” Luckily, this Chicago situation happened and I got a call on the 15th of December and I was out here rehearsing on Dec. 19. I learned the show in less than two weeks, but I’m a fast learner. .. I’ve done theater my whole life. I was always a swing [cast members who learn many of the key roles of a particular show and can step into a role at a moment’s notice]. I’ve always been a quick study and getting many roles under your belt in a short amount of time.”
Brady also headed to “Hamilton” fresh from his lead role as Charley Kringas in the Los Angeles production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” this past November.
“Sondheim was super difficult because I was never connected to it,” Brady said. “Lin’s music is easier for me because I’m a hip-hop fan. I am a singer and a writer and an amateur MC. Lin’s music is poetry. That cat is so smart!”
The role of Burr is one of the show’s most potent, and features almost as much stage time as that of Hamilton (played here by Miguel Cervantes).
Getting ready to get back on the plane to Chicago! Rehearsal tomorrow y’all! Thanks for all the good wishes! pic.twitter.com/oTdaDIH54I
— Wayne Brady (@waynebrady) January 10, 2017
“The most daunting aspect of the role? You want it to be absolutely perfect because the show is so dense verbally,” Brady said, “especially for Hamilton, and secondly for Burr. There’s so many places where, Lord forbid — you do NOT want to go up on a line! Because there will be someone who will go,”Did that dude just make something up in freestyle?”
“I’ve done musicals like ‘Rent’ and ‘Chorus Line’ where you really have to be a theater nerd to know the score. And you have a few theater nerds who sit in the front row and sing along. But this is a show where people who’ve never even seen the show know EVERY word of EVERY character from the [cast recording]. My daughter [13-year-old Maile Masako Brady] has seen the show six times and she knows every word of every character. She could do a one-woman version of it. People are definitely gonna be coming to the show saying ‘Don’t you screw up my song!”
“I saw the show a whole bunch, as well, and I knew a lot of the songs,” Brady continued. “There were songs that I really liked and listened to a lot, but other songs, maybe cuz they were the girls’ songs, that I didn’t listen to much. So my daughter was my study buddy. She really helped me. Believe me, she [was brutally honest] and said things like, ‘Dad that’s completely wrong’ or ‘Dad, that’s the wrong word!.’”
Brady said he’s been going back and forth between Chicago and L.A. to shoot the fifth season of “Whose Line?,” and he’s truly enjoying many aspects of Chicago.
“The food!,” Brady said, with a chuckle. “I love the food here. I never realized that Chicago is such a foodie town. And the theater community! This is the city I was going to move to [out of college at the University of Miami] if I didn’t go to New York or L.A. I wanted to work at Goodman or Steppenwolf or Second City. I just happened to take a left.”