Interview With The Great Comet's Okieriete Onaodowan
Okieriete "Oak" Onaodowan assumes the principal role of Pierre in Dave Malloy's immersive hit musical Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 at Broadway's Imperial Theatre tonight.
He is best known as one of the original cast members of Hamilton, originating the dual roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in Lin-Manuel Miranda's record-breaking musical.
Prior to Hamilton, Oak appeared on the Broadway stage in Rocky in 2014 and in Cyrano de Bergerac in 2012. He took on the title role of Lincoln Center Theater's off-Broadway production of Luce in 2013 and also was a part of the National Tour of Green Day's American Idiot. On television, he most recently appeared as Afrika Bambaataa in The Get Down, whilst other screen credits include Person to Person, Ballers, and Thanks for Sharing.
We previously caught up with Oak and here's what he had to say about joining the cast of The Great Comet of 1812:
Thomas Hayden Millward: So, we’re very much looking forward to seeing what you bring to The Great Comet of 1812, Oak. How did you first hear about the casting possibility for Pierre?
Okieriete Onaodowan: Well, actually [Director] Rachel [Chavkin] is a dear friend of mine. She reached out to me during my last couple of days in Hamilton. She said that they were thinking about me as Pierre and we joked that maybe that could be a thing. And it’s no longer a ‘maybe’ now, which is great!
THM: What do you think are the main factors of the show that have made it such a hit on Broadway?
OO: I think that what makes it a Broadway hit is the fact that it’s incredibly rich in terms of the talent and the sound and what’s happening on stage. So many different actors are playing their own instruments. There are so many different voices that you hear that aren’t stereotypical Broadway voices. Then there’s a really diverse cast. I think what makes it so successful is that it’s not parading the diversity, it’s just inherently in the piece, which I think people gravitate towards and they want to see, given the success of Hamilton and how that went over. People were so inspired by the diversity of the cast and it was inspiring for us to see that. The Great Comet is doing the same thing but not having that be the selling point. The point is it’s a great show.
THM: Do you think the show has any other similarities with Hamilton?
OO: Apart from the diversity of the cast, it also completely breaks certain conventions of theatre – in this case, in terms of the immersive nature of it. When you come and sit down within that set and you look around and you see how everything is happening. The songs are not structured in your typical A-B-C-D-fashion. It’s really story-driven, which is very similar to Hamilton. Each song progresses the story and they’re entertaining to listen to and engaging. Those are the main parallels between the shows.
THM: Do you personally know your predecessor Josh Groban and did you have any conversations about the role?
OO: I’ve had conversations with Josh. We’ve actually gotten to know each other over the past couple of years. He’s a really great, remarkable, salt-of-the-earth kinda guy. He more or less said to just dive into it head-first and take it on by putting your stamp on it and making sense of it. You have to give your heart to this character.
THM: Well, I’ll look forward to seeing your own interpretation of the role, Oak. And I’m glad that we are finally at a stage where color-blind casting seems to be completely accepted on Broadway now.
OO: Yes, I agree. I mean I don’t think everything needs to be color-blind, but there needs to be a lane for it. There needs to be more shows that embrace it and it shouldn’t be such an event anymore when it does happen. It should just be part of the fabric of theatre.