by Rita Charleston
They stood in long lines at the Forrest Theatre each night last week for what seemed like forever to see the multi-award-winning musical, “Hamilton.” The show, by composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, is now on tour. It tells of one of America’s Founding Fathers, 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.
Miranda created his own version of America then, as told by America now, featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B and Broadway. But this musical, which has won 11 Tony Awards, actually began one night at the White House in 2009 when Miranda performed his hip-hop version of “The Hamilton Mixtape” for President Obama during an evening of “Poetry, Music and The Spoken Word.” That performance ultimately led to the hit show that has received universal accolades – with Ambler native Josh Tower now featured in the role of Aaron Burr as “Hamilton” tours the country.
“Hamilton” tells the story of how, in the musical’s opening words, “a bastard, orphan son of a whore / and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean / by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grows up to be a hero and a scholar.”
In the show, Hamilton’s headstrong ways clash with Burr, his one-time mentor.
“Burr plays his political cards close to his chest,” Tower said, “and he advises Hamilton to follow his own lead and ‘talk less and smile more.’ And although later Burr ultimately killed Hamilton in a duel, making many see him as a villain, I disagree.
“Aaron Burr, just like the role of Judas I played in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ was a complicated man, but I don’t think he was evil. I think it was a mistake that Burr shot Hamilton. It wasn’t supposed to happen. In those days duels were common. They were legal and simply meant to settle quarrels between two people. In fact, Burr actually despised duels, but it makes a great story.”
Another great story is the tale of Tower’s rise in the theater. He said he loved living in Ambler because it offered many opportunities, including making it easy to get to Philly to see lots of theater and great art.
He sang a lot in grade school, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and his love of music grew when he began singing in the school choir. When he entered Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, he made his first stage appearance in “South Pacific.” He was in the 10th grade and thoroughly enjoyed his own role. But at the time Tower’s heart was really devoted to sports.
After high school, Tower served in the Army for two years, and when he was discharged, he enrolled at Montgomery County Community College before eventually going to Temple University to study radio, television, film and theater.
“It was a great experience,” Tower said. “I got to do a little bit of everything from building sets to learning about lighting, even performing. And even though by my second year at Temple, I decided to concentrate on acting, all those previous experiences helped me become very wellrounded.”
Later, Tower got his master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and began his climb up the ladder of success. He has appeared on Broadway in “Ragtime” and did a six-year stint as Simba in “The Lion King” after touring with it for one year. Other prominent roles included “Motown the Musical,” “Miss Saigon,” “Les Miserables” and many more.
According to a review in the Baltimore Sun by theater critic Mary Carole McCauley, “Actor Josh Tower gives us a Burr who is half-feline. He depicts a man who is all power and coiled energy waiting to strike beneath a supple, graceful facade. It’s a marvelous performance that reaches full force in the second act in ‘The Room Where It Happened.’”
“I would say this is probably my dream role,” Tower said. “One of the things I’m enjoying most about being in this show is the ability to travel across the country and share a little bit of history with so many people. I see it as a great privilege.”
“Hamilton” continues at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut St., through Nov. 17. For ticket information, call 1-877-796-5523