When musical theater legend Chita Rivera threw a shoe at him and slapped him in the face, DuPont knew he’d made the right career choice.
It happened in 2019 at a rehearsal for the Broadway musical “Paradise Square.” For guests including Rivera, DuPont and A.J. Shively were performing an early number from the show.
Rivera was so moved by the performance that she burst into tears, and her stunned expression bordered on fury. Out of love, she took her shoes off and extended her hand.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life. I don’t think I washed my face for the next two days,” says DuPont. Rivera asked him his name and said: “I’m so glad to get to know it before the rest of the world does.”
Rivera is, of course, catching up with the rest of the world. This season, DuPont, 30, has been nominated for a Chita Rivera Award and a Tony Award for his work on “Paradise Square,” with Variety praising his “earthy, sometimes modern, style that leads from the center” and The Wall Street Journal praising his “strong impression.” DuPont has been nominated for best actor in a featured role in a musical.
“The one thing I can say about this journey is that hard work, kindness, and dedication really pay off,” he says. “When you are ready for an opportunity and seize it, your hard work will definitely pay off.”
DuPont is a Virgo, which reflects his zodiac sign’s affinity for a practical and systematic approach to life. He worked hard to get here, touring with “Memphis: the Musical,” “A Chorus Line,” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a better dance partner,” Shively, a first-time Tony nominee, says. “He’s been extremely helpful, just making me feel more confident and knowing when to say something encouraging and giving me tips here and there.” I consider myself extremely fortunate to have him.”
For the past five years, DuPont has been working on “Paradise Square.” It’s a musical about Irish immigrants and Black Americans fighting for survival in 1863 New York City. He plays Washington Henry, an escaped enslaved man on the Underground Railroad to Canada who stops in New York to wait for his girlfriend.
“I think he’s a romantic, a fighter, but he’s also one of those ancestors whose story is often left off pages in history books,” DuPont says. “Every day, I am grateful to be able to tell this story, to tell his story in a way that I believe is powerful, dynamic, and necessary.”
DuPont, the middle child of three, grew up in Philadelphia knowing from an early age that he wanted to be a performer and storyteller. How soon? Maybe even when he was two, when his father plugged a video camera into the TV and filmed his son.
He went on to graduate from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, having accumulated enough credits to leave early to go on tour; remember, he’s a Virgo.
He had to overcome a crucial aspect of musical theater — his hearing. DuPont was diagnosed with cholesteatoma, a skin-lined cyst that invades the middle ear and eats away at the eardrum, when he was five years old. He was deaf in his left ear.
“It surprised me by making me feel a little different. I was dealing with sexuality and otherness on top of being Black and, more specifically, darker skinned. “So I had a lot of things about which I was very self-conscious,” he says.
It’s only recently that DuPont has begun talking publicly about his partial deafness, saying he didn’t realize he was carrying shame about it from grade school.