Nicholas Christopher tackles challenging role of Aaron Burr in ‘Hamilton’
It was while Nicholas Christopher was at The Juilliard School that he had opportunity to audition for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.” He was 19 when first he auditioned for the musical and landed the role when he turned 20. Christopher, who had dreamed of being in the theater growing up, had a difficult decision to make. It was either leave Juilliard, which was financially straining for him and his family, “or go play a dream part, make some money and possibly start my career,” says the performer. He chose to start his career, and hasn’t looked back.
The talented actor, singer and dancer has appeared on Broadway in “Miss Saigon” and “Motown: The Musical” as well as Off-Broadway in “Whorl Inside a Loop,” the first revival of “Rent” and “Hurt Village.” He currently stars as Aaron Burr in the national touring production of “Hamilton,” which opens at the Boston Opera House for a two-month run beginning Sept. 18.
The groundbreaking musical, which won 11 Tony Awards in 2016, with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, features a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway. “Hamilton” is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. The musical is the story of America then, as told by America now.
Christopher, who originally hails from Bermuda, is grateful for his time at Juilliard because it prepared him for his career of acting and storytelling. He’s been able to bounce back and forth between musical and non-musical theater, as well as doing Shakespeare and a little bit of television. “It gave me versatility in that,” says the actor.
“Juilliard helped me find my voice,” he continues, “and told me that I’m not just saying somebody else’s words and wearing somebody else’s clothes and in front of people. It really gave me ownership to say ‘Well, today if I want to write something, I can write something. If I want to film something, I can film something.’ Juilliard truly changed my life.”
A year after doing “In the Heights,” Christopher got a call to be a part of the development readings for “Hamilton.” He considers himself lucky enough to be a part of the show when it was going to be just an album called the “Hamilton Mix-Tape” and not the musical. At that time, the creative team only had about five ideas fleshed out, according to Christopher.
Over the course of a year-and-a-half, he was able to watch the show grow into what it is today. “I was lucky to fall in love with this show before everybody else fell in love with this show,” says the triple threat. The role of Aaron Burr has definitely been the most challenging part he’s played so far on stage. As the narrator, he very rarely leaves the stage. He sings and raps on almost every song and dances a lot. Plus, he says, the emotional journey of the character adds to the role’s weight. “I put my own twist on the character where I think it’s a little bit more comedic. Obviously, it gets dramatic at the end. What I demand of myself in this character is challenging.”
With the resounding success of “Hamilton,” Christopher’s career has been impacted in a good way, and it has also had the benefit of beginning to slowly change the face of Broadway “on the other side of the table,” as he describes it. He’s now being considered for more lead roles. “People are willing to take a chance on people of color, and tell their story in leading parts, which is very exciting.”