After nearly a year and a half on the North American tour of “Hamilton,” Pierre Jean Gonzalez – who had been the standby for three of the main characters – was offered the lead role of Alexander Hamilton.
”It was a dream to be a standby, but to play the role … it’s hard to put into words how I felt when I was offered the part,” said Gonzalez in a recent phone call from Philadelphia, where the show was being performed.
That initial elation was, however, put on pause. A long pause.
Gonzalez was supposed to debut in the lead role in March 2020, but then the COVID pandemic hit.
”It was a really big blow to my heart,” he admitted.
Fast forward to August of this year, when Gonzalez began his run (in Atlanta) as Hamilton in the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. The show will land at the Providence Performing Arts Center on Nov. 30 and run through Dec. 12.
”I’m having an amazing time,” he said when asked how the tour was going so far. “At first, I was feeling a little nervous and anxious, but once the lights hit and I got back into it, I was like ‘Man, I’m doing what I love. This is my dream.’ Then to see the audience … even though people are wearing masks, I can still see their joy and see them singing along to the songs through their masks.”
The Bronx native said he brings a “100 percent New York/hip-hop flavor” to the iconic role of Alexander Hamilton, originated by “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel Miranda. “I’m authentically myself and big into moment-to-moment [acting] and making the text real. It’s easy for actors in a show to narrate, but that’s not what audiences want to see. They want to see people experience it and feel it, and I try to give that every time I’m on stage.”
In addition to the motivation to please audiences, Gonzalez said that his desire to pay tribute to his family is always paramount.
”I grew up in the projects. My grandmother came here from the Dominican Republic with my aunt and uncle and my mother, and worked as a seamstress. She didn’t read or write,” he said. “So I am always in service and in honor of my family. They mean the world to me.”
Being a role model and mentor for young people is also a priority, he said.
”I know that a lot of my trauma, my baggage, the things I deal with every day comes from not seeing myself in the place I always wanted to be. It’s hard being a Hispanic man who’s auditioning for a role and they’re only looking at me as a sidekick, or the other Spanish guy, or a dishwasher, a bad guy, a thug on the street,” said Gonzalez, his tone intensifying as he spoke. “So to have this opportunity to show that I’m also intellectual, that I can speak, that I’m a leading man … this is a game changer for me and hopefully it’s going to do that for a lot of other kids who see me in this role.”
The Rutgers University graduate is so passionate about this that he and his fiancé, Cedric Leiba Jr., a fellow actor, producer, writer, and LGBTQ+ activist, founded DominiRican Productions last year.
The company’s mission, Gonzalez said, is to “see people of color on both sides of the camera” and to create content that spotlights underrepresented and marginalized communities. In addition to producing and developing their own work, he said they are collaborating with other organizations that seek to empower marginalized communities.
”I’m using this platform I have to not only push my company, but to push my people, the LGBTQ Latinx gay experience that a lot of people don’t see,” he said.
Gonzalez, who lives in Edgewater, N.J., with Leiba (they also have an apartment in Manhattan), said he is looking forward to exploring Providence and other parts of Rhode Island during the show’s run here. His production company’s third partner, Steven Luna, is a Rhode Island native, and has a whole itinerary planned for them, Gonzalez said.
”I heard the food scene in Providence is amazing. I want to hit all the restaurants,” he said. “We’ll be staying in the downtown area, which I know has lots of local artists. … I have a long to-do list.”
For Gonzalez, exploring the country is one of the highlights of being on a national tour.
”New York was all I knew growing up. For me, going to Queens was like I was going out of state,” he said. “So this experience has been so eye-opening for me; seeing how beautiful the United States actually is and how cultured it is. It’s really opened my mind about how much more there is.”
The only downside to touring, Gonzalez said, is that he’s “such a family man” and misses his family in New York. “I love being close to them and being able to hug them. So not being able to do that is a little bit hard.”
That aside, Gonzalez, who in addition to stage work has performed on TV and in films, said he is thankful every day for the seminal role he gets to perform for audiences around the country.
He grew up listening to hip-hop and studied Shakespeare in college. “Hamilton,” he said, melds the two perfectly. “You have intricate words, you have rhythm, you have your metronome, and you know what the beats are. … That’s what hip-hop is.”
He added: “This role was just kind of perfectly made for me in that sense. I’m very grateful.”
At the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Nov. 30-Dec. 12. Age 10 and up, masks and proof of vaccination or proof of negative COVID test required. Tickets $69-$269. 401-421-2787. ppacri.org.