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When multi-award-winning musical Hamilton opened in the West End, it was the hottest ticket in town. Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show - which tells the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton through a mix of musical styles including hip-hop, rap, blues and jazz - had been a smash hit on Broadway and was the musical everyone was talking about.
Now Hamilton is on tour across the UK, coming to Birmingham Hippodrome this summer - and the buzz continues. For its two lead actors, Shaq Taylor as Hamilton and Sam Oladeinde as his friend and then nemesis, Aaron Burr, that fever pitch is both exciting and a little daunting.
“It’s equally as thrilling as it is terrifying,” says Sam, who understudied a host of lead parts in the West End production before taking on the role of Burr for the tour. “I think there is a huge amount of pressure and anticipation that comes with being part of this thing which everyone has heard of called Hamilton. But also I think, because the piece simply is incredible, very quickly that terror dies down, and it’s just pure excitement and joy because the show carries everybody through; it really does. It’s incredibly special.”
Both men knew of the musical from its early days in the US and were keen to be part of its story.
“I’ve been a fan of Hamilton from when it first came out,” says Shaq, “and from then on, I’ve been completely immersed in the whole world that is Hamilton. Now, to be able to be a part of that world is very scary because there’s a lot to live up to. A lot of great artists have paved the way before me, and now to put my own stamp on this machine is amazing. So it’s both very daunting and joyful at the same time.”
London-born Shaq has a host of theatre credits to his name, including the Beast in Disney’s Beauty And The Beast and Javert in Les Misérables. One of the benefits of touring is that it offers actors the chance to really dig into a role. 
“That is the luxury of doing it so many different times,” Shaq explains. “You get the chance to make so many choices and explore different nuances and play different elements of the character. 
“They are very complex characters. I like how instinctive Hamilton is, how everything he does and says comes from his heart and he means it. It’s always from a place of ‘I feel this way, I’m going to say it this way and everyone else is going to hear me.’ From the way he has grown up as a young man, I feel like that has conditioned him to have this bravado, this ‘me against the world’ stance, and I feel he never loses that throughout this piece.”
But, Shaq adds, Hamilton also has his flaws: “He is someone who definitely flies too close to the sun. There are moments in the piece where I catch myself, as Shaq, saying ‘Just think about that situation a bit more and choose a different route because it would be better for yourself and those around you.’ But unfortunately that’s not how the story goes.”
For Sam, who has recently appeared as vocalist Zalon Thompson in the Amy Winehouse film Back To Black, the chance to play Aaron Burr on tour was an opportunity not to be missed.
“I understudied several different roles in the West End, but I never went on for Burr, so it felt like the journey wasn’t quite complete. So I feel like we are ending the journey, doing all of the tracks that I’ve learned and doing it in such a celebratory way, taking it to the audiences and breathing perhaps a different life into the show.
“The joy of doing the show eight times a week is that you fill out Aaron and he becomes an entire human being. And just like I am different Monday to Saturday, so Aaron Burr is different Monday to Saturday. It’s really interesting when people come to the show more than once and say ‘I saw a couple of different things today, and that was really exciting.’ I think I’ve been able to delve deeper into the role, and I hope that means that audiences have been able to take even more from the story.”
So why do the guys think Hamilton has been such a runaway success?
“I think the show is a building with many, many doors,” explains Sam, “and absolutely everyone on this planet can find a door they like [through which] to enter the piece. People love the show for so many different things. You might love the hip-hop beat, you might love the lyricism, you might fall in love with the love story, you might fall in love with the politics. 
“The show has every element of every type of story in it, but it’s done so well that you fall in love with the show for one reason, and then you get to witness the joy of everything else. Every single element of the show is a strength - the choreography, the direction, the music, the band, the performances on stage, the sound, the lighting - the show has won record numbers of awards in the UK, in America, around the world, and that’s for a reason.”
Shaq believes its story, in which a nascent nation takes on the weight of the British Empire and wins, resonates in its David & Goliath struggle.
“There’s a strong togetherness that everyone can relate to in some sort of way, whether it’s in their local community or fighting for something that they believe in. It may not be as big as this, but there’s an undeniable force of togetherness when people fight for something they believe in.”
Before taking on the role, Shaq learned a good deal more about the historical figure of Hamilton and his era.
“It’s good to know the basics so that you can immerse yourself in the world of Alexander Hamilton. Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, the book that the musical is based off, is so detailed. It goes through the emotions of Hamilton from a young age. It holds so much information that never made it into the musical, but it’s good to know those parts of his life to connect the dots and create nuances within our piece.”
Sam, too, spent time learning more about the real-life characters, reading biographies of both Hamilton and Burr - and making some research visits.
“I used to work as a lawyer in New York, so the last time I was there, I went and visited some of the venues that we find ourselves in in the show. Then just doing a bit of a deep dive into the history of the show itself was fascinating, as well as trying to understand all of the musical references.
“Hamilton and Burr are written so well and are polar opposites. I think that Burr feels a sense of jealousy quickly and doesn’t necessarily understand that his success doesn’t negate others’ success, and the other way round. But I also think he is a very intelligent and kind and considerate person, so I try and play Aaron in a way that makes the audience feel that they are Aaron in those situations. I think it’s much easier to think of yourself as Aaron, who is an ordinary person, who is smart but a little bit flawed, as opposed to this unique, headstrong, bright Hamilton. He is the exception to the rule - which is why the musical is Hamilton!”

By Diane Parkes

Hamilton shows at Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 25 June to Saturday 31 August