Actor Joseph Morales has filled the shoes of Lin-Manuel Miranda more than once. In 2010 and 2011, Morales played the role of Usnavi in the tour of “In the Heights,” a role originated by Miranda on Broadway. Now, Morales is playing the titular role in Miranda's juggernaut musical "Hamilton" as part of the show's national tour, which comes to Austin’s Bass Concert Hall for a May 28-June 16 run.
Again, he's taking a part Miranda made famous and making it his own. As Morales jokingly says, he can’t let that get into his head: “If I thought about how many people wanted to see Lin on that stage, I’d never go out there.”
However, Morales is also aware that at this point, “Hamilton” doesn't rely on the star power of its creator.
“The show is bigger than that,” he says. “The show holds on its own, and hopefully when people are watching it, they forget about the phenomenon and just get lost in the show.”
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For all that massive popularity and national fervor, it might be surprising to hear how Morales sees “Hamilton” as a somewhat intimate show.
“From the inside, the show is actually just very small,” he says. “It’s just us telling the story, and anything bigger than that is really not up to us. All we do is tap into the story and tell it as honestly as we can, and anything else is beyond our control. If we feed into that phenomenon, then all that magic goes away. It’s not until you leave the theater that you really feel the phenomenon.”
Part of that phenomenon: the many first-time theatergoers that “Hamilton” brings to the audience, a difference that's noticeable to Morales and the rest of the touring company. Morales finds that amazing, particularly in the show's ability to draw diverse audiences "in all aspects — age, race."
"It really plays to many different people, and you feel that in the audience," Morales says. "I think it’s a fun experience for all of them to experience the show together. In a lot of ways, it’s more like a concert than a show.”
That doesn’t mean that Morales can afford to live a rock-star lifestyle while out on the road. The physical and emotional demands of portraying Alexander Hamilton over the course of three hours are intense, and self-care is crucial for the actor.
“Most of the preparation happens during the day," he says. "I’ve got to go to the gym, I’ve got to work out, I’ve got to eat right, I’ve got to sleep right, I’ve got to drink enough water. It’s that kind of daily preparation that I think feeds into what happens at night. ... You’re living a whole life in three hours. And emotionally, physically, that’s a lot. That’s why lifestyle is so important.”
Fortunately, a national tour has its perks. Though the show coming to Austin is the same "Hamilton" production currently running on Broadway — Morales says “the only thing different is the people playing the parts” — a tour provides a different energy than performing in the same venue for months at a time. For Morales, that difference is invigorating.
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“It’s exciting to bring the show to different cities, and doing the show in people’s hometowns is a whole different energy, which I love," he says. "They’ve all been waiting so long to see the show. And to have an opening night every month or six weeks is really exciting. We feed off of that energy, and that’s different from doing it in a sit-down production.”
However, Morales isn’t blind to the fact that “Hamilton” is a very political show touring the country in a very politically tumultuous era. Far from a cause for worry, though, Morales says that this is part of what makes “Hamilton” so important and such a sensation. He says “the show came out at exactly the right time, and it’s this perfect storm of everything. And, yes, there are politics in the show, and yes, it does stir things up, but I think at the end of the day what the show is saying is that the world is wide enough.
"We are all the same, we will all experience love, we will all experience death. ... We’re all in it together. Hopefully, at the end of the day, that’s what people leave the theater thinking about.”
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