Former student among cast members of ‘Hamilton’ hold discussion with students

‘Hamilton’ stars offer advice for COPA students

Written By Nick Tommarello, For The Globe

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From the man who will kill your family to remind you of his love, to the man who’s not throwing away his shot, Peter Matthew Smith plays King George III and Edred Utomi plays Alexander Hamilton in the national tour of “Hamilton: an American Musical.” The actors paid a visit to the Pittsburgh Playhouse last Thursday afternoon to talk about their experience performing on stage.

After graduating from Quaker Valley High School in 1995, Peter Matthew Smith attended Point Park University, but he never finished his degree. After his junior year, he auditioned in New York City for the hit Broadway musical, “Rent,” and was cast as the youngest member in the company.

“20 years ago, “Rent” was ‘the show’ at the time.” Smith said. “It was my end all be all show.”

Smith knew that he couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Everyone’s like, you need to go do this because this is what we’re training you to do” Smith said. “I had such a great time when I was at [Point Park] and had that support system. It just felt that everything was right to go into that gig.”

Smith also performed in the 2001 production of “Mamma Mia” in the ensemble, was a replacement in “Fiddler on the Roof” as Motel and played the original Brad in the 2002 production of “Hairspray.” He didn’t want to be a carbon copy of previous performers, and knew how important it was to put himself into his roles.

Smith has a 4-year-old daughter, Addison, with his TV news anchor wife, Amy Lutz.

He tries to spend as much time with his family any chance he gets. He will drive home after performances to visit his family if he is close enough, and will even fly his family out to see him when he travels across the country.

“We try and not go four weeks without seeing each other… FaceTime is a beautiful thing,” Smith said.

Utomi stressed the fact that actors need to stay humble; you’re never too big for any job, and any job is still a job. He understood that he needed to keep a level head.

“I had to treat the Hamilton audition like any other. You can’t psych yourself out. Don’t let people who haven’t made you, break you,” Utomi said.

There have been times where Utomi felt like he got roles because of the color of his skin. He reflected on the time when he played the part of Judah in “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat,” a historically black role. He knew that deep down inside he was a lot better than the typecasting he fell victim to, so he told himself that he was done.

“After a while, I told myself, I’m just not going to do it.” Utomi said.  “Even if I have to not work. Like I said, I’ll show you. I’ll wait for the role. And that’s hard to do sometimes.”

He auditioned for the show again, and was called back for Judah, Joseph and the Elvis impersonator ‘Pharaoh’. Casting believed that Utomi could be a great Pharaoh, but his Elvis impersonation was terrible. He got to take the role and keep the same music, but put his own spin on the role.

“I played what has historically been a role for a white person as me.” Utomi said.

He waited long enough. And now he can say that he played Alexander Hamilton.

At the end of the Q&A session, three junior musical theater students had the opportunity to sing in front of Smith and Utomi. Rachel Cahoon has always been someone who gets extremely nervous right up to the moment she starts singing.

“With Edred and Peter there, I thought I would have even more of a tough time dealing with those nerves in my actual performance. But getting to actually talk to them before I sang, helped me put myself more at ease because they were so down to earth and genuinely seemed like they cared about helping us.” Cahoon said.

Students can see both Utomi and Smith in “Hamilton: An American Musical,” now playing at the Benedum Center until January 27th.

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