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Dixon, a two-time Tony nominee for this year’s Shuffle Along, or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed and the original staging of The Color Purple, will hit the Richard Rodgers Theatre stage in mid-August. Lawson, featured in national tours of Rent and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakout musical In the Heights, will make her Broadway debut on July 11, the same performance in which Miranda’s longtime alternate, Javier Munoz, takes over the title role.
Amid a packed rehearsal schedule, Dixon and Lawson each spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the advice they’ve received from departing actors Leslie Odom Jr. and Phillipa Soo, their impressions of their beloved characters, and the fruitful story of that night in 2009.
How are you feeling, now that the news is out in the open?
Lexi Lawson: I’m excited. I’ve worked with all of these folks since 2008, and I’ve become fans of them even more since then. It’s some of the best acting I’ve ever seen onstage. There’s so much passion in this show; it’s something I haven’t seen in a long time. I took a break from acting for a few years, got married in California and was living in Los Angeles with my husband. I wanted to get back onstage, and I’m so grateful it’s here.
Brandon Victor Dixon: I’m very grateful for the outpouring of love and support. I know how popular the show is, but I’m not in the center of that storm. But there’s a real sincere love for Leslie and these characters. And Hamilton and Shuffle Along are closely connected because the ensembles are all friends, and they both deal with historical figures and the impact they’ve made on American life. That’s the kind of work I like to do: challenging work that has a message.
Brandon Victor Dixon and Audra McDonald in ‘Shuffle Along.’ Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes
What did you think when you first saw Hamilton?
Dixon: After my business partner saw it, he said to me, “We’re going back next week. You gotta see it. I want to watch you watch it.” I thought it was cool at first, but when it got to Renee [Elise Goldsberry] and her “rewind” moment in “Satisfied,” I literally said, “F—! Yes!” I listened to “Wait for It” a great deal, and since I started talking about joining the show, I’ve been playing the soundtrack ad nauseam because, wow, it’s dense. There’s a lot of material to dig into. It’s so wonderful.
Lawson: Lin is the most pleasant and loving person to be around, and he’s also a genius; anything he creates is just magic. When he puts that pen on paper, it’s revolutionary, no matter what. It’s what musical theater has been missing. What I love the most is seeing the kids rap what we learned in school and was so hard to really grasp. To know they’re rapping this and can apply it to their studies, that’s such an innovative way for kids to grow up and learn — especially in comparison to what’s on the radio now.
What do you admire most about your character?
Dixon: I know Burr as a historical figure, but I never delved deeply into his qualities before. Burr is a positive, eager, engaged individual. He wants to understand the game, learn the rules and operate according to them; get ahead by working hard. He does all the right things, but he sees this charming upstart who just flouts through and continues to achieve. I can see how he gets to that level of personal frustration. You can’t look at him as a villain; you have to look at him as a hero in order to get into his psychology. He starts in a positive place and ends up on a road he never expected.
Lawson: I like Eliza because she, to me, has a bit of everything. At the start of the show, she was so young when she met Hamilton, full of life and joy and newness to the world. She gets to have this amazing arc throughout the show and eventually establishes a private orphanage — did she know, at 19 or 20, that she’d do so many beautiful things? It’s exciting to know that these are real people we’re portraying onstage, and this was once happening here in New York.
How did the original actor advise you about playing the character?
Dixon: I asked Leslie practical things like, “How does this feel in your body? What do you need? What did you read? What research materials did you recommend?” That kind of thing. The scope of the show is not beyond what I’ve done before, so I’m not too worried.
Lawson: Phillipa is always very uplifting and positive about the whole experience. We were just talking about “Burn” downstairs. There’s beauty in that turmoil. She’s just read the Reynolds Pamphlet and found out her husband has not only been cheating on her but published all these details for the world to see. It’s definitely heavy, but I enjoy going through that difficult journey. I played Mimi in Rent!
Adam Pascal and Lexi Lawson in ‘Rent.’ Photo credit: Courtesy of Lexi Lawson
Have you two met before?
Lawson: I met him on the road; he was on the Color Purple tour and I was on the Rent tour. We just clicked, and I’ve bumped into him a few times ever since.
Dixon: It was 2009 in Saint Paul — we hung out and turned up on one cold-ass night in Saint Paul! I was on that tour with Daniel Watts, who is in Hamilton now. Lexi is beautiful, so when we met her, we thought, “She’s so beautiful; she’s bananas.” And then he texted me two weeks ago and said, “Bananas just joined our show!” It’s a compliment — the banana is the highest of the fruits.
Lawson: I didn’t know that! Aw, that’s so sweet and so nice. Hilarious.
He’s beyond talented. I’m so excited to work with him.
Brandon, you’re rehearsing for Hamilton while finishing Shuffle Along. How do you stay energized?
Dixon: High-quality whiskey — none of that well nonsense. Work out, meditate and do it all over again.
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