Preview: Brandon Victor Dixon at the Trust Cabaret

Hamilton and The Color Purple star Brandon Victor Dixon comes to Trust Cabaret Monday, November 15th.

By Sharon Eberson

It may come as a surprise that Brandon Victor Dixon didn’t always think of himself as a singer.

Certainly, Broadway audiences who have heard him in Hamilton or The Color Purple would beg to differ. And you may differ with that assessment, too, if you watched him belt Judas’ songs in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, earning him an Emmy nomination in the process.

The two-time Tony nominee as featured actor in a musical will let his voice sound off for itself in Pittsburgh on Monday, Nov. 15, for two shows on the Trust Cabaret Series.

Dixon found his way as a vocalist, he said in a phone interview Wednesday, while playing Ray Charles in the musical biography Unchain My Heart, which began in Pasadena in 2007 but never made it to Broadway.

“I’ve done a variety of shows that have stretched my abilities or expanded them,” he said. “I could always use my voice as a storytelling tool, but I never thought of myself as a vocalist until after I was working on the show about Ray Charles, which came after The Color Purple. In the decade since, the different types of shows I’ve done, the readings, the workshops, they have truly expanded my vocal palette.”

In his cabaret show here, he will dip into his expansive repertoire, which goes beyond Broadway and may dabble in some Rat Pack lore and a bit of Billy Joel.

“It’s a blend of shows I’ve done recently where I connect the storytelling of some Broadway shows with the story of soul artists I’ve been inspired by,” Dixon said.

“Soul singing is probably my favorite genre,” he continued. “I’m also a big fan of Broadway standards, like the American Songbook, and you can expand that to connect to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy … I missed my era, but I’m here doing what I can.”

Dixon’s range of genres can be found in roles that include Berry Gordy in Motown, the Musical: Tom Collins in Rent Live! on FOX, and the role of Aaron Burr, as the replacement for Leslie Odom Jr. in the Broadway production of Hamilton. In fact, throughout his career, Dixon has been a bit of a big-name magnet, including his first big job out of college, as adult Simba in the original The Lion King national tour (2003).

Dixon’s pair of Tony nominations come from his Broadway debut, as Harpo in the 2005 The Color Purple revival, and as Eubie Blake in Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, with a starry cast that included Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Billy Porter.

Shuffle Along closed abruptly when leading lady McDonald became pregnant and also was due to leave the show as “Lady Day” in London.

Dixon agreed that Broadway might never see such an assemblage of talent again. “And don’t forget Savion Glover,” he said of the choreographer, “and Adrienne Warren and everyone in the ensemble.”

Dixon, however, didn’t have much time to mourn the sudden end of Shuffle Along. He quickly was recruited into another show — as Odom’s replacement in Hamilton.

Along with his stage roles, Dixon’s screen career has included the Starz series Power. He became a series regular in its final two seasons, with the series ending in February 2020. His Broadway producing credits include the 2014 Tony-winning revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

He counts himself as lucky that he was busy when live entertainment was mostly shut down during the pandemic.

“The nature of my work, and how I’ve been involved in many things, I’ve been fairly active for the past year and a half,” he said, adding his biggest drought from live performing was September in 2020 through May 2021, with several smaller projects to fill the pandemic void.

“Because I wasn’t in the middle of a show, it’s not like I was ripped away from something when all this happened,” Dixon said. “And because I have been engaged in various smaller projects that could operate responsively relative to what information was out there, I have been able to make certain appearances and still connect with people. That’s something I’m very grateful for because I know that’s not something many people have been able to do.”

Later this month, he begins rehearsals for a show that he’s been attached to for nearly three years: Black No More, with music by Tariq Trotter (The Roots), choreography by Bill T. Jones (Spring Awakening) and a book by John Ridley (12 Years a Slave). Scott Elliott directs.

Black No More, scheduled to debut off-Broadway in January, was inspired by George S. Schuyler’s 1931 novel of the same name. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, it is the story of a man (Dixon) eager to try the mysterious machine invented by Dr. Junius Crookman (Trotter), who guarantees to “solve the American race problem” — by turning Black people white. A starry cast, including Ephraim Sykes and Lillias White, is directed by The New Group artistic director Scott Elliott.

Away from the stage and screen spotlight, Dixon is a founder and leader of The #WeAre Foundation, which uses “the transformative and connective power of the arts to amplify voices that emphasize our shared humanity.”

It’s as a singer that Dixon is best known, of course. He explained how portraying Ray Charles helped him find his way as the performer who brings his singing and storytelling skills to the Trust Cabaret on Monday.

“Vocal acrobatics are not how I express my talent. Primarily my way through is connected to the emotional story of the song. So it was really about being exposed to the breadth of musical and vocal stylings Ray Charles had, and finding myself adapting to them very well — the things I can hear, the choices I can make. The experience of doing that show made me feel like I could claim myself as a vocalist.”

For tickets visit: https://trustarts.org/production/71876/brandon-victor-dixon

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