Trey Curtis 3 1200x450
Trey Curtis 3 1200x450

Trey Curtis on Landing His Dream Role in Hamilton on Broadway

The Hamilton lyric “Look at where you are, look at where you started” immediately comes to mind when interviewing actor Trey Curtis. Ten years ago, Curtis was a freshman starring in his dream role of Usnavi in the University of Texas production of In the Heights. Now, he is starring as the titular role in Hamilton on Broadway.

When Hamilton premiered at Off-Broadway’s Public Theater in 2015, it immediately became a smash hit, and its transfer to Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre later that year made it a bona fide juggernaut. The musical following the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton was lauded for successfully fusing together hip-hop and rap with musical theater, and for casting that reflected America’s diversity. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and original star of Hamilton, cemented his legacy in the cultural zeitgeist, gathering up awards and accolades, from the Pulitzer Prize to being named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

But before that, Miranda wrote the music and lyrics to and starred as Usnavi in In the Heights, the Tony Award–winning musical that celebrates a community of Dominican and Puerto Rican residents in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. That musical’s presence at the 2008 Tony Awards was the catalyst for Curtis’s interest in Miranda.

Trey Curtis (center) and the cast of Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Trey Curtis (center) and the cast of Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Both Miranda musicals have clear parallels — from their musical genres to their themes of stories and legacies to actors who have performed in both musicals. Curtis now joins that list of actors, checking off his second dream role written by Miranda. His Hamilton journey began as a cast member of the musical’s 2019 “And Peggy” tour that began in Puerto Rico, before joining the Broadway production in 2023.

Broadway Direct chatted with Curtis to reflect on his journey and full-circle moment taking on Miranda lead roles.

When did you first learn of Lin-Manuel Miranda?

I learned of Lin-Manuel in middle school when I watched the 2008 Tony Awards. I didn’t know anything about In the Heights, but when Lin-Manuel got up and freestyled his acceptance speech, I was like, “What is this?! Why is this happening on a Broadway stage?” My mom got me the CD and I started learning the lyrics.

I kept following Lin-Manuel’s journey, like I followed him on Vine when he was making the Hamilton Mixtape. I remember watching the premiere of Hamilton for the Obamas at the White House in 2009. I saw Bring It On five times in Houston. I learned about 21 Chump Street. I knew everything about Lin-Manuel.

I love that your mom immediately bought you the In the Heights cast album. She is the one who originally got you into theater, right?

Yes. She used to work at [Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars], and I would say I was about 5 years old when I started taking summer camps there. Then I was in the professional academy during the school year, and I’d take dancing, singing, and acting classes after to get better at the craft. By middle school I knew I wanted to do it professionally.

You were a freshman when you played Usnavi in your college production of In the Heights. It was your dream role at the time. Did you feel any pressure?

I did feel pressure. First of all, being a freshman, you’re not supposed to be on the main stage — that’s what I felt going into college, and I wasn’t the first person cast. So I was like, “Is this really mine? It’s my favorite musical.”

But then J. Quinton Johnson [who played Benny in the same production and is now in Hamilton on Broadway with Curtis] posted on my Facebook page, “Look, I don’t know if you notice, but we all got you. This show is not all on you. It may feel really heavy, but you have all the support you need, and you got this.” I didn’t know him at the time, but that led to “The Ruffians” [a decade-long friendship between Curtis, Johnson, and Vincent J. Hooper, who currently plays Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King].

What does it feel like now that you’re on Broadway with your best friends? You and Q are in the same show, and Vincent is Simba just a block away.

It’s so dope. I look up to both of them so much. I’ve done Hamilton with both of them, but not at the same time. Vincent and I did the “And Peggy” tour of Hamilton that started in Puerto Rico. Last year, when I made my Broadway debut, I was playing Hamilton for the first time and Q was playing [George] Washington. It was the first time we had ever done Hamilton together. I looked into Q’s eyes on Broadway and it was unbelievable. He reminded me that it was the first time we had acted on stage together since In the Heights in college. I can’t even put into words the feeling and the gratitude I have.

Stephanie Jae Park and Trey Curtis in Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Stephanie Jae Park and Trey Curtis in Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

What was your reaction to learning you were going to step into another Lin-Manuel leading role full-time? Like, the titular role in Hamilton is big.

The first thing that I did was sit down. My manager called me just as I was just getting off of the train to go to rehearsal for Hamilton’s international tour. I was walking down 42nd Street with my girlfriend and my manager called and said, “You won’t be able to finish the international tour because you’re going to take over Hamilton on Broadway full-time.”

I felt so weak and didn’t know where I was for a second. My girlfriend said she had never seen that look on my face before. I started shaking and I needed to sit down. Taking in that moment on 42nd Street and hearing about a dream role — it knocked the wind out of me. I lost feeling in my knees! Just like Usnavi, it didn’t feel real.

When you told your mom about Usnavi, she put you on speakerphone so you could tell her whole office. What was your mom’s reaction this time around?

She was in the car and I was like, “Pull over!” When I told her, she just screamed. She has a very distinct, guttural yelp. When I told my dad, he was like, “That’s spectacular!” I’ve never heard my dad say that word before.

They’ve both supported me doing theater my whole life. They never forced me to have a plan B, so it felt really good to share that news with them.

When you played Usnavi, it was your dream role. When Hamilton came out, did Alexander Hamilton become your dream role?

It was always Hamilton. I relate to him the most.

How so?

That pen. Pushing that pen. Feeling like you don’t have time to create everything you have imagined. Loving hard. The way he is with his essays is how I am about making this music and beats right now.

Trey Curtis and Jared Dixon in Hamilton.
Trey Curtis and Jared Dixon in Hamilton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Do you remember what your first performance as Hamilton was like?

To be honest, it’s kind of a blur, but I remember standing with all 10 toes on the ground. My girlfriend and my mom were my two people in the audience for my debut, and that’s all I needed. I focused on their support and taking it all in.

Is there a similar pressure taking on another dream role?

I do still get nervous, because I still care about this show so much. The pressure now doesn’t come from “Oh, am I doing a good job?” The pressure comes from wanting to be so honest and keeping my heart in it. That’s what I saw in Lin-Manuel accepting his award for In the Heights. I have the pressure to give that same feeling to somebody. I know I can do it, but the pressure is a little deeper this time around.

Headshot by Stephanie Diani, production photos by Joan Marcus.

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