Bakersfield’s Darnell Abraham is “the mannequin of a contemporary main normal” in San Francisco’s Hamilton
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Darnell Abraham’s new role as George Washington in San Francisco in Hamilton – described as “America then told about America now” – makes it a little harder for him to go unnoticed.
“One of the adjustments for me was going out in public,” said Abraham after performing at the Orpheum Theater on Sunday. “People will come and ask, ‘Are you Washington in Hamilton?'”
He stepped into the new role last month, and Abraham said he was constantly learning about the nation’s first president.
“My goal with Washington is to remove the icon and truly embody humanity so that we see a man who was confident, but we also see a man who was afraid,” said Abraham. “When ‘Right Hand Man’ comes out, Washington really interprets it and says, ‘You know, we’re shot, manned, I need help.'” Abraham said, quoting Right Hand Man. It’s the song that introduces George Washington.
The musical “Hamilton” tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, a West Indian immigrant, the United States’ first Treasury Secretary and one of the nation’s founding fathers. During the American Revolution, Hamilton served on George Washington’s military staff. Even so, Virginia’s war hero plays a huge role throughout the performance.
“He is the founding father and the first president of our nation,” said Abraham of Washington. “I think in the context of this show, I would say he’s the adult in the room. He becomes Hamilton’s father figure. “
The show isn’t just a retelling of history: it takes into account and anticipates some of the nation’s more chaotic issues, such as war, slavery, and political compromise.
“I remember sitting in a studio in New York City when I was learning the role, and on the song,” The Story Has Its Eyes On You, “I remember being moved to tears until that Point where I actually had to stop working and just let it go, ”recalled Abraham. “There’s a line in there that says, ‘Who lives, who dies, who tells your story, you have no control.’ Here I am, fast forward, 2019. A black man telling a story about an America at the time, “said Abraham.” All I remember is feeling overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude. I would even dare to do one Feeling sad to say.
“I am a descendant of enslaved Africans here in America, but in the midst of it all, I feel empowered because, at this point in our nation’s history, I have the opportunity to be a voice for those who were once voiceless. ” he added.
Unlike other historical retellings, “Hamilton” is a show about the mostly white men who helped found the United States, but which were told by black people in rap, R&B and hip-hop music . Abraham said he learned some of the show’s dance styles while growing up in Bakersfield.
“My two sisters are dancers so you would come up with a new dance routine and they needed a different body,” Abraham said with a laugh. “So my sisters, they got me involved and I learned very simple street dance steps and then I remember kicking too, and we see elements of that on the show.”
Despite the twist in musical theater, La Wain Powell, Darnell Abraham’s mother, said it was a great opportunity to see the story retold.
“It allows our children, my grandchildren, to learn this in school, but we will take them to see the play and have people who look like them play it, which will grab their attention.” said Powell.
She and her husband Tyrone Powell already saw the show in San Francisco, but not with their son as George Washington. When they were in attendance, Abraham played the role of Aaron Burr, another main character and Hamilton’s rival throughout the show.
Powell said she had heard from many friends and congratulated her on Abraham’s success: “I have a friend who as a little boy said, ‘He’s going to be president. ‘So she texted me and said, “I told you he was going to be president!”
Powell added that what’s also special about this show is that she always told her kids to learn from history because it keeps coming back.
To prepare for the show, Abraham is constantly immersed in history, said Lily Ling, the music director and conductor for the San Francisco Company of Hamilton.
“When you go into his room, he watches documentaries about George Washington, he watches documentaries about King George, just so he can get a deeper understanding of all of these characters,” Ling said.
When Abraham was in school he said there was no example of musical theater in his hometown to emulate.
“I had my dreams and my ambitions,” he said. “I remember seeing Denzel Washington films and being inspired by him. I remember seeing Sidney Poitier. So these were men who looked like me. ”
However, Abraham realizes that he is now an example to others. Just last week he flew back to Bakersfield to see his old school, former teachers and current students of Dr. Attending Juliet Thorner Elementary School. The school has a performing arts magnet program that Abraham said he put to the theater as a student there.
“My grandmother used to say, ‘Pay it forward,’ so it was a really unique and wonderful opportunity to do just that,” said Abraham. “To say thank you, but now to go in and sit down with the children. Talk about what makes them excited. “
He said “Hamilton” felt like a celebration because in his home state he was close to his family and had the opportunity to say thanks. He is focused on the show in front of him and just feels happy to be alive now, as a song in the musical says.
Darnell Abraham will appear as George Washington in “Hamilton” at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco until January 2020.