OU alumnus Andy Tofa did anything but “throw away his shot” after graduating from the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre.
Currently, Tofa is starring as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in the "And Peggy" company's national tour of "Hamilton" in San Francisco. He performs about eight times a week, impacting diverse audiences through the material of Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical.
But reaching this point of success took time, Tofa said.
At OU, from which Tofa graduated in 2015, he was an aspiring actor who had limited experience with professional theater. He came to the university without traditional musical theater training and immediately began participating in shows, like his first on-stage musical “On the Town” in 2013.
OU served as a jumping point for Tofa, he said. The constant encouragement of his musical theater professors and the ways they formed his identity were key contributing factors to his current success.
The Daily sat down with Tofa to talk about what he learned from his time at OU, how he acquired his role in Hamilton and what life on tour is like:
Q: When were you first exposed to theater?
A: I started dancing technically when I was 14 at Diamond Talent Productions in St. George, Utah. It was through them that the world of musical theater was open to me.
At the time, I didn't really know what to do for college. I knew I wanted to dance, I loved to sing, and acting scared me at the time. But I still wanted to do it all.
It was my directors that told me I could do all three through this thing called musical theater that I would be able to train for in school. So I started looking up Unifieds (musical theater auditions held across the country for colleges, universities, theater programs and conservatories, according to theater news website Broadway World).
Q: What were you feeling the moment you auditioned for OU and how did you know it was the school for you?
A: Oh, my goodness, I was so nervous. I actually wasn't supposed to audition for OU first ... but when I went to the hotel where they had all of the college tables lined up, I passed OU's table and saw Paul Christman (professor of musical theater).
We got to talking, and he asked me if I wanted to audition right then. I remember singing “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin,” which is a very challenging piece when you have no vocal training. But I ended up getting an on-campus callback, which is an additional audition that determines whether or not you are accepted into the program.
When I went to Oklahoma for that callback, everything felt so easy. Christman's energy and enthusiasm made me feel so welcome — he was a big reason why I chose OU.
I never thought I would go to Oklahoma, of all places, for school. But it just felt right.
Q: What was one of your most meaningful experiences during your time at OU?
A: I think taking song study with Shawn Churchman (associate processor of musical theater performance) was what reminded me why we do musical theater in the first place. He taught me about all of the emotions theater makes you feel, among the technical elements you have to know as you grow as a performer.
Musicals were built to make us feel things, and these composers and lyricists knew how to translate those feelings and thoughts into actual text and embody them in the show. Once I understood that through his class, I was able to get rid of some of the fear I associated with acting.
There are so many other ways that OU prepares you. Everyone on the staff did such a good job of helping me figure out what my essence is, which is really important in musical theater. All of the classes I took and the things I learned from my professors helped me identify who I am and how I relate to things.
Q: After you graduated from OU, how did you become involved with the “And Peggy” tour of "Hamilton"?
A: After doing some professional gigs outside of college like Disney Cruise Line, “Mamma Mia” and “Newsies,” I went to an open call in New York for “Hamilton.” I didn’t hear back from that initial call, but six months later I went to another dance call and made it through.
The audition process for that took about three months ... and after participating in a week-long intensive, I was able to come in as an ensemble member of the "Angelica" tour in 2019.
About halfway or closer to the end of my contract for the "Angelica" tour, I discussed with the creative team about being a cover for one of the principal characters. I was dying to just get into some material and to tell the story from those frontlines.
I started learning that part and later was offered the actual role in the “And Peggy” company, which I joined in December as a full-time John Laurens and Philip Hamilton.
Q: What does participating in such a well-known and beloved musical mean to you?
A: It's a very humbling experience. Especially when we do the "Eduhams," which is where we have high school kids come and see the show. It's cool to see them learn about the show’s history and grow in their desire to be inspired by musicals.
Every night, I thank God for giving me exposure to what authentic and meaningful theater looks like.
Outside at the stage door, people tell me I made them cry and that they have seen the show seven times, to which I wonder, "How can they afford that?" But it's great to see that people are so moved by the show. I can see why so many people love it, and it's really cool to get people more involved in this community of theater.
Q: What advice would you give current OU musical theater majors or aspiring actors or actresses as they pursue theater?
A: I would say to them that music theater is amazing and it's your passion, but also find other passions. Find those other hobbies and things that make your whole person, because having those things make you a better performer.
That way, when you go to auditions and you have all of these other pots to fill from, when you get cut from an audition or when you don't get that show that you wanted, you're not devastated or wondering who you are.
It is important to put time into your craft, but it is more important to get to know yourself. Even when you feel like you're totally behind, lost in the world and don't know what you're doing, put one foot in front of the other and trust that you have a light inside of you that's never going to lead you astray.
The opinions of anyone else, whether it be your professors, friends or family will inform you, but the most important voice you need to listen to is your own.
Tofa will perform as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco until September. Tickets start at $49.
Editor's note: This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.