The 2017 awards season has begun, but for three-time Tony nominee Brian d’Arcy James life is all about last season’s victor, Hamilton, now that he regained the throne as King George III last month. Though he originated the role in the initial Public Theater production of the Lin-Manuel Miranda-penned phenom, d’Arcy James took on the leading role in Something Rotten! (for which he earned his third Tony nomination) for the 2014-2015 season and Tony nominee Jonathan Groff originated King George for Broadway.
But the show d’Arcy James stepped back into this spring isn’t the same one he left Off-Broadway. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced… certainly at this level,” he says of his return following its explosion in pop culture. “It’s reached such a wide range of people in this country and beyond. Their excitement to see it just from having heard it on the news or on a recording is [unparalleled].”
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Still, d’Arcy James says that even in the earliest rehearsals, he knew Hamilton would be big. “I think we all sensed that it was going to be something very special,” he says. “If you’re in a room rehearsing something for six weeks and you see what everyone else has obviously seen now—that is pretty electric. We were witnessing these building blocks coming to life before our eyes as Lin would create them,” he continues. “Each new piece of the puzzle that would drop would be even more bold. I study the show in a different way.”
“I appreciate more [of the creation] in hindsight, just because of the enormity of what this has now become.”
Though he’s left an original role in the early stages of a show’ and returned to it previously—with his performance as Dan in Next to Normal—this experience revisiting a show is singular. “[Audiences] know all the intricacies, they know the story, they know the characters…. They just know it all. It’s a totally different experience, because of how people are primed to see it.”
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But that doesn’t mean this second go at the show has any less of an effect on him. As a performer James still marvels at the complexity of the writing. “The text is the cart that pulls the reins,” he says. “It’s such a beautiful maze words and fascinating exploration of history and character.”
While d’Arcy James says not much within the show’s structure has changed since he left, he points out, “there are things that [director] Tommy [Kail] has learned about the character [King George]” since the Public production ended in January 2015. “Getting new, fresh direction from him is very helpful. [It’s] a new layer—one more coat of paint, if you will—of how to look at this guy in terms of his progression of appearances in the show.”
And the actor also enjoys watching the different spins newcomers have put on their respective characters. “It’s like the sun glistening off of a diamond,” he explains. “If you turn the diamond just a little bit, you’ll get a different reflection off the different facet. Every night, I’m saying, ‘Oh! I’ve never seen that reflection before!’ or ‘Oh! I’ve never heard that word [delivered like that] before.’”
Compared to his other high-octane gigs, this role’s shortened stage time (nine minutes in total) allows d’Arcy James to pack a punch without wearing himself out. “It’s kind of fun for me to hear the half-hour call, and know that I don’t have to brace myself for that climb up the mountain,” he says. “There’s a little bit of relief where I can just settle into my chair [and] breathe!”
Matt Smith is a writer and theatre enthusiast based in New York. For more information or further inquiry, including additional writing samples, please visit MattSmithTheatre.com.