Long before it was a Pulitzer Prize-, Grammy- and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, when Hamilton was still in its formative workshop stages, actor Josh Tower was in one of the original readings, taking on the part of George Washington.
Chris Jackson ended up getting the part in the original Broadway cast. "They kept wanting me to audition for the tours for George Washington and then for a subsequent replacement on Broadway after Chris left," Tower says. But over time, he became less enamored of the presidential role and instead gravitated to the Aaron Burr spot. So much so that when producers called his agent to gauge his interest in work on the show, Tower told him to tell them "If Burr opens up please give me a call."
As it so happens, it did and now Tower is heading to Houston with the Broadway Across America national tour as the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.
With the book, a wide range of music genres, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton has achieved modern day classic status. Tower (Broadway: Berry Gordy in Motown the Musical, Simba in The Lion King, School of Rock, Ragtime) says the array of memorable music that includes hip-hop , rap, R&B, blues and really is akin to what Broadway musicals of the 1940s were doing: delivering songs that people would remember after they left the theater. "Lin has written songs that are radio-friendly, that are friendly to many people's ears."
Speaking to the continued popularity of the musical, Tower says he thinks the Disney+ presentation of the original cast doing the show which premiered during the pandemic when people weren't going out to live theater, really generated a new level of fans. "Now people really want to see live one of the things that kept them going during the pandemic."
Why the attraction to Aaron Burr? "One of my favorite roles that I've ever played is Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar which I've done half a dozen times probably. I find them similar in that I feel that they're misunderstood characters and perceived as bad guys. So I enjoy putting that question into people's minds."
Tower took a circuitous route to becoming a classically trained actor. He was in chorus in fifth grade and did a couple musicals in high school, but acting wasn't the focus of his activities. "I was like the fifth sailor from the left in South Pacific and the third royal guard from the right in The King and I," he says laughing Instead he was actively involved in sports — football, wrestling, track, baseball — although he describes himself as "not a great athlete."
After high school, he joined the army for the GI bill and to study telecommunications with the idea of becoming a radio disc jockey. A few of his fellow trainees knew that he could sing.
"So we would do lights out and they would ask me to sing them to sleep. There would be an entire platoon of guys listening to me sing which ended promptly one night when our drill sergeant surprised me and was at the corner of my bunk, watching me sing and we all got up and did pushups for 45 minutes."
Once in college, Tower studied film directing, working behind the cameras. One day when they needed an actor for something, he volunteered. To his surprise, he says, he discovered he liked it.
He took his newfound enthusiasm and training to New York City where he found the easiest roles to get were in musical theater. "When I got to New York, the thing you could go for open calls for was musicals, without an agent, without all that stuff and without representation."
He says he noticed that during the pandemic, with more streaming shows developed, actors who are known for musical theater were given more opportunities to do straight roles. "The industry realized in that one year that they could also act."
The Hamilton touring group includes about 75 people including a cast of about 35. They are tested constantly for COVID-19. There are intricacies that change due to the limitations of the particular theater they're in, he says, which makes it difficult fitting in someone from another troupe at the last minute. "What they're trying to do now is to make it uniform across all the [touring] companies so that people can jump from company to company [if someone gets sick.]
"We really got hit in San Antonio with this Omicron. They were basically maskless and spitting on each other for three hours. When one person got it, it started spreading like wildfire while the people who were on the stage crew and backstage who have to remain masked the entire show, were largely good to go. The cast really got slammed.
"The misconception is people think they can just fly another company of Hamilton in to just pick up and do the show, but it's just unfortunate that it's not a reality. You just have to make do with what you have and you can fly in 'a' person here and there if they're available, but you can't simply replace an entire company in one fell swoop."
They were in San Antonio a little over a month ago, did four shows and then had to cancel the rest of the run, he says. They were supposed to be there for two weeks.
"It's really frustrating because as performers you leave your family, you leave your home, you leave New York . So you want to come out here and you want to do the show because there's also the other end — people who’ve had tickets for two years who are all excited who drive in from all over the place. It's so hard to see people be upset and go through that."
The last time he was in Houston he was playing Berry Gordy. This time around he'll be skipping the heat and humidity of summer and he'll be joined by his two children who he plans to take to NASA.
Growing up, Tower says his father wasn't around. That's what helped him identify with Simba in Lion King losing his father. "I always say that Lion King was the most spiritual show that I've ever done and Hamilton the most meaningful show I've ever done.
"With Hamilton they said we want the show to represent the United States and the current fabric of the United States which is very diverse, we want that reflected in our company, in our cast and they made that happen," he says. "All of these guys Burr, Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson were in fact all were immigrants to this country. The only natives were the Native Americans."
Performances are scheduled for February 22 through March 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test or vaccination is required. Masks are required. For more information, call 713-982-2787 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $106-$158, High prices to $1,000 for verified resale tickets.