Brandon Victor Dixon has been nominated for two Tony Awards, but it took the election of Donald Trump to put him in the national spotlight. The New York actor, currently playing the role of Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” landed on everyone’s radar in November when he delivered a scripted curtain speech to Mike Pence when the vice president-elect attended the Broadway musical with his family.
The show’s creators and producers, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, wrote the brief, courteous address, and asked Dixon to deliver it. “I don’t know why they asked me, but I had no hesitation,” the actor says.
|JAKE CHESSUM for Variety|
Backstage, the actors found out about the speech about an hour and a half before curtain (and weighed in on what ultimately was said). Once they were in the wings, they knew Pence had arrived from the boos and cheers that erupted in the house. When the show was over, Dixon addressed the VP-elect as he was being ushered out by security. Pence stopped to hear it all. In the aftermath, Dixon found himself tweeted at by President-elect Trump and asked to appear on morning talk shows.
“I was certainly a little surprised at the magnitude of things, but then my intelligent self kicked in,” Dixon says. “I understand the media-news-cycle world that we live in. And my reaction was, ‘I’m happy to step forward and to speak about this at any and every opportunity,’ because people globally feel a need to hear that they are not alone in their desire to have their voices heard.”
The November incident even spurred the hashtag movement #BoycottHamilton.
Nevertheless, “Hamilton,” the top-grossing show on Broadway in 2016, has since become the first musical to surpass $3 million in sales from a single week of eight performances.
The curtain speech became the lightning rod it did because, in the age of Trump, “Hamilton” itself plays like a rebuke to the new administration and to the reactionary tide that elected it. During the Obama presidency, “Hamilton” seemed a ratification of that presidency’s hopeful progressiveness, but now it feels like resistance art, embracing the voices currently worried about being further marginalized. “Immigrants: We get the job done,” goes an oft-quoted refrain from the show’s song “Yorktown,” and in the wake of Trump’s election, Miranda has said, “We have to keep fighting for the things we believe in.”
|“Shows like this remind people of their power.”|
|Brandon Victor Dixon|
Dixon, a Tony nominee for the original production of “The Color Purple” and last year’s “Shuffle Along,” has always considered himself politically engaged — “‘Responsibility’ is absolutely the word,” he says — and topical relevance is one of the guiding principles of WalkRunFly Productions, the theatrical production company he formed with choreographer Warren Adams. Their two current projects include a brewing Broadway transfer of Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott’s prison drama “Whorl Inside a Loop,” which touches on one of the issues about which Dixon is most passionate: mass incarceration.
“The play forces us to address how we use anger, fear, and distance to shape how we treat the most vulnerable members of our society,” he says. “Am I more than the worst thing I’ve ever done?”
WalkRunFly is also developing “Trial of the Century,” a musical about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby that, Dixon says, has things to say about the contemporary media landscape. In the meantime, he has a recurring role in “Power,” the Starz series that “does a wonderful job of creating widely varied tapestry of characters of color.” And he’ll continue to play Aaron Burr eight times a week in “Hamilton.”
“It’s a show that makes you see, ‘Oh, the founding fathers were people just like me,” Dixon says. “I have the power to affect a community, and our democracy is not fixed in stone. It’s moving and malleable and it demands that it evolves.’ Shows like this will continue to grow in popularity, because they remind people of their power.”