By Kharisma McIlwaine
Originally from the small town of Saint Matthews, South Carolina, Brandon Whitmore had dreams of becoming a dancer. Years of training at South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities, eventually led Whitmore to pursue a career in theater.
Drawn to Philadelphia, which had already become home to several members of his South Carolina family, Whitmore found himself deciding to further his love for the arts in the City of Brotherly Love as a student at the University of The Arts.
Whitmore now serves as another one of U Arts success stories as a touring member of the ensemble cast of “Hello, Dolly!” He recently took some time to speak to the SUN about his first experience touring in a national production and the importance of representation in the world of theater.
It only took one visit to Philadelphia to win Whitmore over.
“I fell in love with the city… the aura, the vibe, the Blackness and the diversity that Philly offered versus any of the other campuses that I visited,” he said. “I was also fortunate enough to have a full scholarship.”
Although Whitmore considers himself a late bloomer in the world of theater by way of dance, he found his calling.
“I started theater a little bit late,” he said. “I was a dance major all throughout my life, I was a ballet dancer. When I was 2, my sister used to dance and I fell in love with dance then. Initially I did ballet, then I was a tap dancer for a little bit, then I did some jazz.
“When I got to college, I was primarily a ballet concentration, but in 2014 I auditioned for my first musical which was “Newsies” the national tour,” Whitmore continued. “I saw their Tony performance and I fell in love! I didn’t get the job, but that’s when I realized, maybe this is what I should be doing. Once I found theater, everything finally clicked.”
Whitmore’s very first theater job was “Mamma Mia!” on a Royal Caribbean cruise. After performing on cruises for seven months, he took the leap and moved to New York City where he found his agent turned best friend, Sofia Morrow Schap.
As full circle moments would have it, Whitmore landed a role in “Newsies” in productions in Florida and North Carolina. He saw that first production on the same stage he will soon perform on in Philadelphia as an ensemble cast member of the touring production of “Hello, Dolly!”
“I first auditioned for “Hello, Dolly!” in 2017 for a Broadway replacement track,” he said. “Mind you, I knew nothing about the show. I auditioned and something just clicked, I thought ‘this movement feels really good on my body.’ I’m short and Black so there are very limited things that the theater world offers us. Once you find it you stick with it.”
“I auditioned for ‘Dolly’ about seven times,” he continued. “When I heard that the tour was coming out, once again something clicked, and I knew I was going to book it and I did. It’s all about persistence. That’s part of the journey in the musical theater business… showing up and knowing who you are.”
Whitmore has been on tour with “Hello, Dolly!” for a year and a half. He detailed his role in the show.
“I am the only Black dancer in the show,” he said. “We have another African American actor named Christopher Faison. He is more of a singer track… I’m the dancer track. I have a solo in one of the numbers. I’m a townsperson in Act 1 and a waiter at one point in Act 2. I also understudy one of the principal roles, Barnaby.”
The 1964 Broadway musical “Hello, Dolly!” has lasted through the ages. Whitmore describes it as “vibrant, colorful and bright… it’s a good time. It’s a very well put together musical. People would compare it and say it was the “Hamilton” of their time. It lasts for a very long time. It’s a feel-good musical.”
A little-known fact is that in 1968 there was an all-Black cast and production of “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway. It starred Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, Emily Yancy, Mabel King, and a number of other iconic performers.
“After I booked the show, I wanted to learn the history of it,” Whitmore said. “That was one of the first things that really stuck out to me. I thought ‘wow, even though I’m the only Black dancer in this company, I have some sort of seat to fill to pay homage.’ That’s what I think about every night… that all Black production that barely gets recognized.”
Traveling the country has been an incredible bonus for Whitmore. His appreciation for the beautiful theaters he gets to perform on falls second to the most rewarding aspect of his experience touring which is representation.
“The most rewarding thing for me personally as a dancer of color, is seeing African Americans, or people of color in the audience,” he said. “Especially in a lot of the more intimate houses — you get to really see people, you get to see their eyes, their laughter, how they react and interact.”
“I make it a point to find a Black family, a boy, or girl and stare at them,” Whitmore continued. “I want them to know ‘I see you and I’m doing this for you.’ “I think it’s really important for them to know. I had that growing up, seeing Brooklyn Mack –a dark-skinned Black ballet dancer that started ballet at a late age. Being yourself and having that on stage is really important to me.”
Be sure to follow Brandon Whitmore on Instagram at: @brandonlwhitmore, or visit his website at: www.bwhitmore.com.
“Hello, Dolly!” will be at the Academy of Music from Wednesday, February 19 through Sunday, March 1. Visit: www.kimmelcenter.org for more details on tickets and showtimes.