‘It’s been the coolest ride’: Sewickley native relishes touring with ‘Hamilton’

Monday, December 10, 2018 | 9:45 AM

Audiences across the country roar in applause as King George enters the stage in the hottest theatrical performance in decades: “Hamilton.”

For Peter Matthew Smith, 41, a Sewickley native who plays George, the audience response is invigorating.

“It’s the reason actors do this. It’s instant gratification,” he said. “It fuels you in your show.”

Smith, who is touring the United States as part of the “Hamilton” cast, will return to Pittsburgh — after a short stop here for Christmas to see family, of course — to take the stage at the Benedum Center in “Hamilton” on Jan. 1 to 27.

“I’m so excited to bring this show to Pittsburgh and to be in the company that gets to do it,” he said. “When I saw that Pittsburgh was on the schedule, I was like, ‘Yes! This is going to be awesome!’”

Smith, a 1995 Quaker Valley graduate, credits his many years of national success in theater to training he received growing up in the Pittsburgh-area.

He laughed as he recalled his first time on stage playing the Velveteen Rabbit in the Sewickley area through Pam Gregg’s The Attic Workshop, an afterschool program.

Gregg then launched The Performing Arts Camp in Sewickley, where Smith continued performing.

“Absolutely, he started with me when he was a youngin’,” Gregg said, talking about Smith as a “little boy.” “There is sometimes that little extra spark that someone has and Peter had it.”

Gregg said that “extra” is Smith’s passion for the stage.

“You can tell when he’s on the stage that he’s loving what he’s doing,” said Gregg, who is friends with Smith’s family and keeps tabs on his career. “I’m always hearing about Peter. He’s an extended part of the family.”

Smith also was a part of the drama club and yearly musicals at Quaker Valley.

It was during his freshman year that everything came into focus.

Smith recalls a teacher at the Pittsburgh Playhouse asking if he planned to continue in theater: “You should. You’re really good,” the teacher said.

In that moment, he knew this was going to be his life.

“There was like a switch in me that, ‘Yeah, this is what I’m going to do,” Smith said.

There was a group of students from high schools across the Pittsburgh region that Smith said were all really talented. They challenged each other and many went on to careers in New York.

Smith headed to Point Park University for college, but he never finished.

After his junior year, he auditioned in New York City for “Rent” and was cast as the youngest member. After traveling the country in “Rent,” Smith returned to New York City and performed in five Broadway shows, including “Rent,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Hairspray,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Cry-Baby.”

Smith got married to news anchor, Amy Lutz, and the couple later moved to Columbus for her job. His career then took him on a national tour for “Memphis.”

They’ve now settled in York, Pa, with their 4-year-old daughter Addison.

When the call to audition for “Hamilton” came from Smith’s agent, he responded, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

Three call backs later and he was back on the road touring the nation as King George. He joined the cast in January.

“It’s awesome,” Smith said. He loves being the comedic relief in the show — and he’s perfect for it, his former teacher said.

“It’s absolutely the best part in the world for Peter,” Gregg said. “If there is a part that Peter could play the rest of his life, this is it.”

People have been waiting years to see the show, Smith said. And that’s obvious from the second the show starts.

“People cheer the moment that Hamilton says, ‘Alexander Hamilton,’ ” Smith said with a laugh.

“In his very first moment, the second he says his name, people start screaming and it’s like a rock concert.”

After having the opportunity to travel the country and live in New York City, Smith misses Sewickley all the more.

“This is an amazing, special place that is a microcosm that doesn’t really exist too many other places in the world,” Smith said. “You walk down Beaver Street in The Village and it’s this storybook place. It’s almost like Norman Rockwell doing his art there. It’s an amazing place and safe and clean and with great people.”

Smith still has family in the area. His parents live in Sewickley Heights Manor.

And if you see him walking down Beaver Street, he swears he hasn’t changed since he used to live there.

Smith likens his appearance in “Hamilton” to his first big appearance in “Rent” nearly 20 years ago. Both were the hottest tickets in town and everyone had to see the show.

Both are the highlights of his career, thus far.

“It’s been the coolest ride,” he said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.