Leslie Odom Jr., who last Sunday won the Tony Award for best performance by a leading actor in a musical, announced this afternoon that he will leave the cast of best musical winner Hamilton when his contract ends on July 9. That brings to four the number of leading roles in the show that will be taken over by replacements in recent or coming weeks: Jonathan Groff, who played King George III, left in April. Last week Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the show and plays the title role, announced he would also leave July 9; he was quickly followed by Phillipa Soo, who plays Hamilton’s wife and said she will depart at the same time.
Odom made his announcement during a Facebook Live video appearance shortly before today’s matinee of the blockbuster hit. Although he expressed gratitude for the chance to play the role and to the personal and industry people who had helped him along the way, there also was an undertone of something else in Odom’s speech. Making reference to the planned filming of the production this week, he said that “as of right now I am not a part of that film. I’ll let you know if anything changes. I would love to be a part of it. There’s a small chance that I won’t be, and if I’m not, I’m sure they’ll find somebody great.”
Coming on Father’s Day just before a performance, with no advance warning, that statement sounded like an ultimatum. Several members of the cast have been involved in re-negotiating their contracts beyond the July 9 date and were looking for significant salary increases in light of the show’s astonishing box office success and prospects. Earlier in the season, cast members involved in the development of the show beginning with its original workshops, were promised stakes in the show’s profits along with other members of the profit pool. Details of that settlement are still being worked out with lead producer Jeffrey Seller.
Miranda is leaving to complete two Disney projects. Soo has been cast in the leading role of a new musical based on the film Amelie. Groff has been cast in the Netflix series Mindhunter. Odom, who recently released a solo jazz album, said that while the experience of performing in Hamilton had been “healing” and “wonderful,” the “most exciting part of Hamilton for me, if you can believe it, was in the rehearsal room.
“I’m excited to have a blank page again,” Odom added. “I’m excited to go out and find something new.”
The original cast has been with the show for two years or more, beginning with its run at the Public Theater and continuing when Broadway performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre began last July. (The exception was Groff, who replaced Brian d’Arcy James during the Public Theater run, when d’Arcy JAmes fulfilled a previous commitment to star in the musical Something Rotten!). With an advance ticket sale of more than $80 million and rear mezzanine seats selling for $1,000 or more in the secondary market, the cast changes seem unlikely to have an immediate effect on the box office. The impact on the show’s public image, however, will be seen and remarked upon in the coming days.