ABOVE PHOTO: Warren Egypt Franklin [insert] (Photo: Riker Brothers)
By Kharisma McIlwaine
“Hamilton”, the mastermind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, premiered on Broadway in 2015 and took the world by storm. Since its debut, the Tony Award winning show toured both nationally and internationally to sold out shows — until the pandemic. Broadway and all touring were shut down in March 2020. The talented members of both the Broadway and touring casts were eager to return to the stage, and this year they did.
One of those talented cast members is Cleveland, Ohio native Warren Egypt Franklin. Franklin, who landed dual roles as LaFayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Philip touring company straight out of college, is the youngest actor to the play those roles in the show. Franklin sat down with The Sun to discuss his journey to becoming Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, lessons the pandemic taught him and landing the dream role of Des on Season 4 of “Grown-ish”.
Franklin’s journey and love for theater began at age six, after seeing “The Phantom of The Opera” for the first time.
“I was in love with the story, I was transformed to that place. I was like, ‘oh my God, this is amazing’. I was obsessed… but what I realized even as a kid was that there were no people that looked like me up there. I wanted to make it my business to be in an industry where there were more people that looked like me. There should be Black leads… you should see yourself represented in different mediums.”
Franklin made the decision to pursue theater as a career. After studying theater on the collegiate level at Baldwin Wallace University, he eventually signed with an agency. With bravery in his arsenal, the next big decision Franklin would make was deciding to move from Ohio to New York. It was a scary journey especially financially, but after saving up the most money he ever had, ($2,700), Franklin took a leap of faith. Remarkably his gifts made the transition a quick one.
“I’m a God-fearing man, I pray and I work my butt off to make sure that I’m memorable in the room. Once I moved to New York, within the first week I was in final callbacks for all of these shows. I was still working and grinding, but eventually I booked “Hamilton” a month later. “Hamilton” was the first audition I had when I was still in college. I had my callback for “Hamilton” on my graduation day.”
The rest was history after landing both the roles of Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin embodies both roles, often stealing the show with his charm and humor.
“I saw the original Broadway cast when I was in college. I saw the role and said that’s exactly what I want to do. I never saw a role in theater where I thought that role was made for me”, he explained. “I’ve been taking a masterclass in it since I saw it in 2016. I wanted my role to be able to pay tribute to Daveed [Diggs] and Kyle, the guy who originated the role on my tour… but I didn’t want to mimic them or take anything from them. I wanted to be myself.”
He added, “Lafayette is a little like me. He’s calm, cool and smooth but he’s also feisty, a go getter and passionate. Jefferson is nothing like me. He comes into the room and he smacks the door open. I want to come in through the backdoor, slip in and not be seen by anybody. The way I play Jefferson, it sounds crazy… but if Prince and Jay Z had a rap love child, that’s where I get my sauce for Thomas Jefferson.”
The joy of exploring the dual roles was halted due to the pandemic, and like most of us Franklin had to pivot and adjust in real time to a drastic change.
“Honestly it was really hard for me. When you’re touring, it’s go, go, go… next city, next performance. But I’m so grateful for the time, because it taught me how to fall in love with myself without the stage and without the art. It made me look all my insecurities in the mirror because all I had was me in the mirror”, he shared. “It was really hard, because I didn’t know if or when I was going to work again. But when I asked myself some of those tough questions, that’s when things started opening up for me… even before the world started opening up.”
One of those incredible opportunities that came to Franklin during the pandemic, was the role of Des on “Grown-ish”, the love interest of Jazz (Chloe Bailey).
“That was an amazing process. I couldn’t imagine being in such an iconic and important role, as a person who is a pansexual and an athlete. Some days you link with Des and he’s in sweat pants, a t-shirt and some butters, and the next he can be in a Tom Ford dress and jacket. He’s unpredictable, but he’s himself and I know so many people like that in real life.” He added, “society has conditioned us that boys wear this and girls wear that, and Des does not care at all. I’m so excited for everyone to see the next half of the season which premieres on Freeform in January.”
Anyone that sees Warren Egypt Franklin perform on stage or on screen will no doubt be drawn in by his electric presence. With his talent and perseverance, he’s sure to go far!
Audiences can see Franklin in “Hamilton” at The Academy of Music now through November 28th. Visit www.kimmelculturalcampus.org for more details. Although fans of “Grown-ish” will have to wait until January to see what happens next with Des and Jazz, be sure to follow Franklin on Instagram @warrenegypt for updates and more in the interim.
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