Hamilton the Musical: Callan Purcell

The Fame Reporter interviewed incredible performer, Callan Purcell. He is starring in the Australian tour of Tony Award, Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize winning Hamilton the Musical, stepping into the iconic role of Aaron Burr for the much-anticipated Brisbane season from 27 January 2023 at Lyric Theatre, QPAC.

Callan participated in ATYP’s National Writers Studio and most recently presented a full-length adaptation of Naked Bunyip Dancing with Upstage Youth Theatre. Acting credits include – Bran Nue Dae (Theatre Heritage Australia), Fatherland (Frantic Assembly), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Little Eggs Collective), Jasper Jones (Bondi Pavilion), Hair the Musical (National Tour).

We had the exciting opportunity to sit down with incredible theatre performer Callan Purcell. Callan talked about landing the role of antagonist Aaron Burr in the legendary Musical Hamilton, his magical manifestation story, the importance of representation in leading roles and more.

Welcome to The Fame Reporter Callan, what about ‘Hamilton’ enticed you to want to be involved in it and what was your reaction when you found out you would be stepping into the iconic role of Aaron Burr, being able to represent your culture as a First Nations performer?
It was a show that I had never seen anything like that before and I think millions of people across the world have never seen anything like it and so it was that strong determination to want to be part of history, especially in Australia knowing it was coming here. So I wanted to step up and see what I could do in this particular production.

I guess what it means to me as an Aboriginal man, it’s breaking the norm that actors of minorities can’t take up space in the Australian arts world.

Doing a show like this we can see that there are leads from many ethnicities that are being strong and independent performers and they are going to inspire the future generations that come through.

When you saw Hamilton on Broadway, what about the show compelled you to write ‘You are going to perform in this’ on the back of your ticket stub at the end of the show?
The show looked really hard. Some people look at Everest and the English Channel. But I saw Hamilton and I was like oh that’s the mountain I am going to climb. That’s the one I am going to get to say I conquered that. That started off with me being a standby in the show first as I covered 5 of the 7 principal roles and learning all of the material for each of those characters.

Now I’m going to be able to put all my energy just to the one character and it’s a privilege to be able to do Aaron Burr justice for Brisbane.

What do you love about Aaron Burr’s narrative and trajectory throughout the show, what does a song like ‘Wait for it’ mean to you?
The biggest thing that I love about Aaron Burr is the fact that it’s a man that we love to hate but also we hate to be able to empathize with him as well.

Burr is the quintessential villain and he has the villain moment in the song ‘Room where it happens’ where he breaks loose.

There is choreography where he rips the mask off and veneer of the politician and you see his animal instinct come through to see exactly what he wants.

What the song ‘Wait for it’ means to me is that you see Aaron Burr go through a moment of stabilising himself when he starts to compare himself to others in his life. I can find parallels in my life with that where you can ask yourself, what have I learned? What has my family taught me? What do I truly believe in? How am I going to carry myself through the world with those values and morals?

Some of these moments in Burr’s life that I think to check in with myself and ask what do I believe in? I believe in honesty, I believe integrity and sticking to my guns to make sure I am not faltering just to be liked.

What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Musician Jacob Collier, actress Viola Davis and set designer Katrin Brack.  Katrin designs these amazing sets that are like playgrounds for actors to play in.

Being a standby initially what did you learn from that experience, and what does it mean to you now that you have the chance to play a lead fulltime?
Being a Standby is a whole experience in itself and I believe every actor should be a standby or a swing at one stage in their life because it asks for a particular calibre of performer. Not tooting my own horn, but rather giving more accolades to my fellow cast members.

To be a Standby you need an actor who is open to change and flexibility. One night you will play the King, the next you’ll portray Hamilton and then Laurens/Philip and then you might be Aaron Burr. You need to be open to variety and being kept on your toes. That addiction to adrenaline as you hope for the best for your audience, that feeling will be exciting to bring to Aaron Burr.

Burr is the narrator and every night he hopes that the outcome will be different and each performance he hopes he won’t shoot Hamilton. I understand that everyone has experienced moments where they wanted to go back and change something. The lesson is we need to learn to live through those moments of grief and hardship. The fact that Lin Manuel-Miranda has been able to do that through his music is incredible, especially using rap.

The genre of rap has helped people through hardship and writing their way out of moments of tragedy or grief, it marries so beautifully together.

Why do you think fans worldwide love this show and the style of this contemporary musical?
I think it wakes people up. It is 2 hours and 50 minutes multi-sensory feast. It allows people who aren’t exclusive to the theatre to enjoy a story but through ways they are familiar with.

Hamilton is a hybrid of contemporary historical behavior repartees and conflict scandals that we still see today in politics. I appreciate it because it comes from a human perspective as opposed to exclusively a political or historical perspective. Everyone can relate to that.

Hamilton is not a historical play, it is a play about moments in history and we can still learn from the past in several different ways.

We have Hamilton’s and Aaron Burr’s in our lives and I think that is why it is so accessible for so many people worldwide and it will continue to be accessible so many years.   

What was your experience like presenting a full-length adaptation of ‘Naked Bunyip Dancing’ with Upstage Youth Theatre, and what inspires you to want to teach the artists of the future?
The kids inspire me because I think they will be able to do a better job than me. If young people aren’t going to kick my ass and do a better job, then I have done something wrong as a facilitator. But other than that, by doing the full-length adaptation it was helpful because it gave the young people an opportunity to be themselves on stage and be celebrated for who they are instead of trying to be something they aren’t.

‘Naked Bunyip Dancing’ is a show that celebrates young people for who they are and what they do, warts and all, instead of trying to be a perfect child. I believe we can take on a lot of those lessons as adults as well.

Why should Brisbane audiences come along and see Hamilton?
This is the last Australian city that we are going to be playing before the tour heads to New Zealand.

Brisbane will be the last time for now that Australian audiences are going to be able to see Hamilton. So we are going to go out with a bang.

There will be a few cast member changes and this is a special edition of the show and will breathe new life into an already well-established production in Australia. The new cast members in Melbourne are rehearsing and getting excited for the Brisbane season.

Fame Reporter Word Play


Bucket list
The Northern Lights

My new home

Favourite mantra when you are down          
This too shall pass

Aaron Burr
Delicious villain

Any secret
Not sure, but my Mum can do the ‘Cockroach’

Favourite Musical
Sunday in the Park with George

Savoury or Sweet

Dressing Room necessity
Eucalyptus plant

Lin Manuel-Miranda

Can’t live without
The beach

Favourite Artist
Van Gogh

Bran Nue Dae
Uncle Ernie

Favourite Hamilton song
Room where it happens

Place you want to travel to

Australian theatre scene
Alive and thriving

Future dream
Tiny home on a vineyard

TV Show Binge
Big Mouth

Finally, favourite thing about performing
I get to fail gloriously

Thank-you Callan for joining us at The Fame Reporter and we wish you all the best for the Brisbane season of Hamilton the Musical!

Lyric Theatre, QPAC
From 27 January 2023

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