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Interview: Actor Peter Matthew Smith Opens Up About 'The Greatest Job There Is' - Playing King George III in HAMILTON

Lin-Manuel Miranda's landmark musical returns to Greenville's Peace Center June 7-19

Interview: Actor Peter Matthew Smith Opens Up About 'The Greatest Job There Is' - Playing King George III in HAMILTON

While talking to actor Peter Matthew Smith, I mentioned one of his recent Instagram posts, in which he discusses the importance of swings and understudies, those versatile performers who are always ready to step on stage at the last possible moment.

"As they say, the show must go on," Smith replied, "and we rely on our swings and understudies so much. They are the reason we get to continue working. And having been one in the past, I know it can be a very difficult job. They're basically the glue that keeps us all together in theater!"

Some of Smith's years as an understudy were spent in landmark musicals, including the original Broadway productions of RENT, MAMMA MIA, and HAIRSPRAY. But now he's planted himself center stage in the role of a lifetime - King George III in Lin-Manuel Miranda's pop culture phenomenon, HAMILTON.

Setting the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton to a hip-hop beat, HAMILTON is truly a revolutionary moment in theatre. And now the touring production returns to Greenville's Peace Center for a two-week engagement.

I caught up with Peter Matthew Smith by phone and asked him to tell us more about playing the musical's regal comic relief.


Let me just start off by saying, at least from the outside, it feels like this is just in every way a dream roll.

You said it!

How does it feel to step into that role?

It feels fantastic! When I got cast in this role, which was back in 2018, I basically said to my friends and family that I had won the theatre lottery. And it's true, it's the best theater job you can find out there.

And it feels like you've been no slouch in the musical theatre department. You've had some amazing experiences. Can you walk us through some of that?

I've been working professionally since I was, gosh, I guess 15. And right out of college I booked the national tour of RENT and toured with RENT, then did the Broadway company after that. Then did the Broadway companies of MAMMA MIA, HAIRSPRAY, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, and CRYBABY - and that was a great time. I worked nine straight years in New York City, in Broadway shows. And then I stepped away for a while because I got married and then had a kid, but then went back to touring. I toured with MEMPHIS and then eventually got HAMILTON. And I've been doing HAMILTON quite a while and it's been the greatest job there is.

What had been your experience with HAMILTON before joining the tour?

Well, it's funny because at the time my daughter was, gosh, she was three years old and she's eight now. So because I had a toddler, I didn't really pay attention to the theater world as much - I was busy with her. And when anyone asked, "Hey, do you know HAMILTON?" I would say, um, actually, not really.

So when my agent asked if I wanted to audition for the King, I thought, well, maybe I should listen to it first. Let's see if I could do this. And of course I listened to it and I immediately thought, oh, this is right up my alley. This is great. So all I had known about HAMILTON was that it was very successful, but I had never really sat down to listen to it until I got the audition.

When you step into this kind of role, where the performance of it is very iconic, how do you go in and make it your own?

With any show you do where you have to step into a role that someone else has done and people know it, you can't reinvent the wheel, you have to stick with the guidelines, and you can't change that. But you're still your own unique human being and you're gonna add your own little flavor to it. And that's the fun of live theater. Audiences get to see different people play roles that they might have seen hundreds of times, especially now because it's on Disney+. When you travel the country now, people have really had a taste of the show. They've also had these actors that have been ingrained in their brains as being "this is how it's done." But when they see it live, it's always fun. When we're walking out and we hear different audience reactions, we can kind of hear them settle in to our interpretation and feel like, "Oh, I was so used to this one way, it was refreshing to see something new." And of course to see it live is always a big difference. Seeing a theatre production on a television screen will never do it justice. It's never the same as seeing it live. So we kind of have a little bit of a leg up when it comes to something like that because they get the true live experience.

And back to your question, when you approach something that's been done before you just try and find little moments that you can make your own. Our director and associate director guide us along the way and say, "OK, that works, you can keep that, but this we need to not stray too far from the original mold" and that's kind of how it works.

I saw you mentioned not too long ago that you've passed 1,000 performances in this role. How does that feel?

It feels great! I take pride in the body of work, so if I've stuck with a show this long it's like a badge of honor for me. I'm happy to have made it that far, because in the world of theatre it's rare that you can have the opportunity to stay in a show that long, and I'm lucky enough that this particular role in the show is suited for longevity. I'm not dancing eight shows a week like the ensemble, where my body is saying, "Stop." All I'm doing is singing three songs and it's basically the same song with different lyrics each time and for the most part - yes it can be a rangy song and not everybody can actually really sing that song - but if it's in your range, you can tend to do a role like this for a long time and I'm proud and happy to even have the opportunity to have done it for this long.

Later in the show you get to be kind of inside the action, watching from the side as all this action is swirling around you. How does that feel to be almost inside some of those big dance moves near the end?

Well, again, I'm not required to do the big, big dance moves, I get to be an observer and think, man, I'm glad I don't have to do that. But it's nice to actually be a part of a number that everybody else is in because usually when I'm out there, I'm by myself, and my partner is the audience. So it's nice to actually share the stage with other actors.

I managed to see the original production and I just remember being especially amazed at the King's opening song, about how expressive he could be while practically not moving a muscle. How does that moment feel?

The idea is that when we come in for the first time, we don't have to move much. We're directed in a way that says, you know, the King doesn't have to move, because if he waves his hands, whole countries can get destroyed. And that's what it is, like maybe the small wave of his hand means attack the colonies. That's because the King is royalty, he doesn't have to move, he just speaks and everybody does what he wants and that's the idea of the King.

As you indicated earlier, things like the Disney+ movie make it so that not many people who come to this aren't going to already be familiar with at least the music. But how would you describe the show to someone who hasn't yet seen the production?

Basically, what I would say to them is it's a well-orchestrated and choreographed history lesson, set to the tune of hip hop music with rap and pop music all in one.

And it's a non-stop festival for your ears and eyes. What I love about it is that it moves so quickly. It's a three hour experience for the audience, but it goes so fast because the transitions are so precise and well thought-out, and it's the best directed and staged show you'll see out there. Because even people that aren't usually theatergoers will sit down and go, man that time just flew right by and I was entertained the whole time. And that's what I love about it. It's just very well done as far as staging and choreography and all the moments are so precise and so great - about it really is wonderful.


HAMILTON runs June 7-19 at the Peace Center in downtown Greenville, SC. For tickets and showtimes, call the box office at 864-467-3000 or visit peacecenter.org.



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