While Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr jockey for position, King George answers emails, Facetimes his daughter and watches Netflix.
Backstage at “Hamilton,” that is.
Because George is on stage for little more than nine minutes, actor Peter Matthew Smith has ample time to do other things in his dressing room. “I call it my office hours,” he says. “I spend at least an hour and a half backstage.”
The role? “It’s the best gig” for any actor, in any show.
It’s also one of the flashiest. King George, upset with colonists trying to start a new nation, interrupts the Founding Fathers’ plotting with his own assessment – “You’ll Be Back.” The song is comic relief and a guaranteed scene stealer for those who play it.
“He’s the person you love to hate,” Smith says of George. “Most of the history doesn’t matter. It’s just the fact that he’s a ticked-off royal.”
While Smith did research (“one of his greatest failures was losing the Americas”), the key to playing the monarch is just to get increasingly annoyed.
Parading out in a crown and robe, Smith says he doesn’t have to move much. “He’s a king. Someone’s at his beck and call every moment.” The crown isn’t as heavy as you might think (“it was heavier when the show first started”) but the robe “definitely has some heft to it.”
For those who look closely, Smith is on stage another 10 minutes or so as part of the ensemble. He’s on the second level of the set but doesn’t get the workout his co-stars do.
Moving like gears in a well-oiled clock, the ensemble plays dozens of roles while Hamilton’s story unfolds. It’s exhausting work, Smith says. “I’ve been in the ensemble before and I know how difficult their jobs are.”
Smith, in fact, was in the ensemble in the original Broadway companies of “Hairspray” and “Cry-Baby.” He was also an understudy for both Mark and Roger in the touring production of “Rent.”
In one city, he says, he played Mark at the matinee and Roger at the evening performance.
“It’s not as crazy as you think,” Smith says. “In the evening performance, I started to say the other person’s line, moved on and it never happened again. It’s live theater.”
Roger – the budding rock star – was more enjoyable. But Mark – the aspiring filmmaker – “was more of who I was.”
“Rent,” he says, “was the ‘Hamilton’ of its day. People went nuts for it. ‘Rent’-heads would follow us to different cities and be part of the lottery crowd in the first two rows.”
Similarly, “Hamilton” draws repeat viewers, even though the level of enthusiasm changes based on the city.
“You don’t get the same reaction in Tempe (Arizona) as you do in Naples (Florida),” Smith says.
But, thanks to the Disney+ version that featured the original Broadway cast, theatergoers are more than familiar with the hip-hop storytelling.
In “Hamilton” for two years before the pandemic hit, Smith wasn’t sure how life would be when shows went back on the road.
“I knew we would come back eventually,” he says. “I just got a little worried because (the break) lasted longer that we thought it would.”
When Smith went back into the show, he got right back in the groove. “It was like riding a bike,” he says. “It wasn’t that difficult.”
An ideal situation? “I don’t plan on ever leaving this part,” he says. “I love my job.”