For eight shows a week on the North American national tour of the Broadway smash hit “HAMILTON,” Pierre Jean Gonzalez transforms into Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers and the first U.S. secretary of the treasury. Atlanta audiences will experience the magic of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical and Gonzalez’s electric performance in the title role when “HAMILTON” opens at the Fox Theatre on January 30 for a nearly month-long run before closing on February 25. The epic saga follows the rise of Alexander Hamilton as he fights for honor, love, and a legacy that would influence the course of a nation.
A Bronx, New York, native and an openly gay actor of Puerto Rican and Dominican ethnicity, Gonzalez began performing multiple roles as a standby in “HAMILTON” in 2019 after being invited to join the national tour. He was promoted to fill the title role full time in early March 2020, weeks before the coronavirus shutdown.
Gonzalez told Georgia Voice that the upcoming Atlanta performances represent an opportunity for him to experience the thrill of playing his dream role on the Fox stage again after accepting the responsibility for bringing Alexander Hamilton to life onstage nightly, only to be temporarily sidelined.
“I started watching news reports on COVID, and suddenly one month turned into three months, and three months turned into 18 months,” he said.
Gonzalez recalled being overwhelmed with uncertainty in an official lockdown with no end in sight.
“Performing this role was a dream for me,” he said. “I’ll never forget the first time I watched the show. I remember being like, I can’t play Hamilton or Burr, but I could probably play somebody else. And then look at God.”
But in 2020, with each passing day away from the show, Gonzalez said it felt like it was all “being yanked out of existence.”
Gonzalez told Georgia Voice that his career as an actor and his journey with “HAMILTON” isn’t a future he’d predicted for himself as a child navigating cultural expectations and Latino machismo in his Bronx neighborhood.
“In my head, I always wanted to be a barber,” he said. “I was gonna get my little barber’s license, and I was gonna be one of those cute barbers, doing the thing.”
But as fate would have it, after he made several failed attempts to meet the athleticism of students his age, a middle school casting for a scene in William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and encouragement from a teacher set him on a new path — one that led him to audition for The Magnet Academy at Purchase University under the direction of then-acting teacher Nicco Annan, widely known for his breakout role as the gender nonconforming Uncle Clifford on the FX series “P-Valley.”
“I will never forget meeting him and making that connection,” Gonzalez said. “He invested in me in a way that not a lot of teachers and people will do.”
“It was my duty as an artist and an educator that he stepped with an unshakable foundation, knowledge, & awareness of the complete person that he was before any institution (academic or artistic) tested his resilience,” said Annan, reflecting on the then 14-year-old Gonzalez in an email to Georgia Voice. “He had talent; all he needed was space to shape his fire.”
The intonation of Gonzalez’s voice immediately shifted to compliment the obvious respect and admiration he still feels for Annan’s early development of him as an artist. Gonzalez is also intentional about acknowledging the power of being seen by Annan as a young gay man of color coming into the fullness of his identity.
“I didn’t feel accepted in many spaces,” Gonzalez said. “Theater saved my life. In the last four or five years, I’ve really connected to my queerness and my femininity. Now, I’m so proud to say that I am queer. Back in the day, it was such a taboo thing even to state.”
“[Pierre] is the personification that you don’t have to extinguish your fire, but the world is best served when you know its strength and use it as your superpower,” Annan wrote.
In addition to fulfilling his “HAMILTON” duties, Gonzalez and his fiancé Cedric Leiba Jr. are also co-producers of the national tour and upcoming Broadway revival of “The Wiz,” and co-founders of DominiRican Productions, which they co-founded at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We developed a program called ‘New Works,’ where we take new works from LGBTQIA people of color and produce their films,” Gonzalez said.
It’s all part of a meticulous plan by Gonzalez to raise visibility and expand opportunities for queer artists of color and queer couples, specifically Black and Latino gay men, onstage and off, in front of and behind the camera.
“Often, people get to a point in their career — obviously, I’m playing Hamilton, what an epic thing — but what do you do with that? What do you really do with that visibility? With that representation? I knew being openly gay was very important for me to scream from the rooftops,” Gonzalez said. “I never thought I could be openly gay and be a leading man at the same time, but things are shifting now.”
It makes sense that Gonzalez and the “HAMILTON” company are returning to perform in Atlanta; the connection to the city runs deep.
“I will never forget what Atlanta did for me, what it did for my company, what it did for the people coming back from such a horrible experience,” Gonzalez said. “To be an artist in the pandemic, we had no idea if we were ever going to come back to work. We had no idea if the company would be open anymore. So, returning now feels like a full circle moment.”
“HAMILTON” features book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. Tickets can be purchased online at foxtheatre.org/hamilton, in person at the Fox Theatre box office (660 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta), or by calling 855-285-8499. Tickets range from $39 to $179 with premiums from $199. There will be a lottery for 40 $10 seats for all performances via the “HAMILTON” app.