Hamilton rival, Aaron Burr, shares spotlight in hit musical, coming to Proctors
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — The musical "Hamilton" made a heroic figure of what had been a neglected and overlooked founding father of our country.
Alexander Hamilton was a Revolutionary War hero. After the American victory, he became a major contributor to The Federalist Papers, which garnered public support for the passing of the Constitution. A brilliant political theorist and a pragmatist, he was appointed by George Washington to be the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton was the man who shaped the economic destiny of the new country.
Oddly, Hamilton is not the only Revolutionary politician to be rediscovered in the musical. Aaron Burr, the Vice-President under Thomas Jefferson, is another important character in the show.
He should be. He shot and killed Hamilton in a duel in 1804.
Josh Tower, who plays Burr in the national tour that is at Proctors Tuesday through Aug. 25, thinks of Burr as a complex individual who had his own strengths as well as weaknesses.
"I can't play him as an evil man. He's more complicated than that. It's a fact that he killed Hamilton in a duel, but so much of what happened turned quickly into myth and legend that it's difficult to really know exactly what happened on the dueling field."
More important to Tower is that few people fully understand the reasons for their personal animosity. He says, "Yes they were rivals, and Burr felt Hamilton slandered him. I see Burr resenting Hamilton rather than hating him. I think Burr saw himself as a guy who always got lost in the shuffle. He was always tripping over Hamilton, a guy who started way below him socially and economically."
The actor describes Burr as a man born of wealth and status who resented that everything seemed to come easily to Hamilton. But he adds, "What few people don't know is that their wives were friends and the two families socialized and often dined together."
Tower, who says he deeply researches every character he portrays, is excited about spending the next two weeks in Schenectady near the Schuyler Mansion, the home of Hamilton's wife.
"It's very exciting that the next few months the tour has us in locations in New England, New York and Virginia. It's the area that was so central to the military and political battles of the Revolution. I love playing where you and the audience can feel the history. I can't wait to see how the Proctors' audience responds to some lines about the Schuyler family."
He's even more excited that the theaters they are playing are only a couple of hours commute from his wife and daughters who live in New York City. "I will be able to spend our off days with my family," he says, sounding joyful.
Tower speaks with pride as he tells of his wife's own successful career in law. He points out she is the first female of Philippine descent to serve as a New York State Family Court judge.
However, it is her support of his acting career that results in him telling the warming story of their relationship.
He played Simba in "The Lion King" on Broadway and the road, for 6 years. After playing in various other shows, in 2014 he got a big break as he assumed the role of famed producer Berry Gordy in the Broadway production of "Motown: the Musical."
At the time, he and his wife were expecting their first child. Just before the curtain of his first performance in the starring role, his wife went into labor. She called the stage manager, but insisted no one tell her husband until the show was over. She didn't want him distracted on the biggest night of his career.
Tower laughs as he recalls the event. "The curtain came down and the whole cast is yelling at me, `Go man, go.' I'm all excited, thinking they are praising my performance. I start yelling back `Yeah, go man go.' They look at me and yell `No man. Go. Go. Your wife is in labor.'"
Happy ending. The production had a car outside waiting for him, which took him to the hospital in time for the birth of his son. In the time since "Motown: the Musical" the couple has added a daughter to their family.
Tower is an adopted child raised by a single mother. He is now a star in the biggest musical of his generation playing a man with serious father issues, who killed a man who never knew his father.
He says his happy family life influences his understanding of the Hamilton-Burr rivalry. "I cannot help but think if each man had a loving father, would it have all been different? This is such a rich play about complicated men; it's never the same every night."
EDITOR'S NOTE: According to Proctors, the entire run of "Hamilton" — tonight through Aug. 25 — is sold out. However, some tickets may be available for certain performances. Complete ticket and performance schedule information is available online at proctors.org or by phone at 518-346-6204.
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