John Devereaux Shines in Hamilton Spotlight
The performer landed the opportunity of a lifetime after years of auditioning.
John Devereaux ’12, part of the supporting cast of the national tour of Hamilton, stepped into the leading role of President George Washington for opening night at Bass Hall in Fort Worth in January. He said he felt the gravitas of the moment.
“I just felt like everything I’ve done was leading up to this point,” he said of the opportunity to fill in as one of the musical’s primary performers. “And I was so honored and grateful to perform on that stage, on that night, as that character, in this show, in this city. It’ll go down in history as one of my top moments in my career.”
The acclaimed musical tells the story of immigrant and revolutionary Alexander Hamilton. Actors of color typically perform the roles of the Founding Fathers and their entourage in the musical. The Grammy Award-winning soundtrack is a blend of hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway. Hamilton picked up 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Devereaux’s path toward the tricorn hat and epaulets was long and uncertain. He auditioned for three years to earn a spot in Hamilton as Man 6. A member of the ensemble, he also covers three leading roles as an understudy.
Devereaux fit in Hamilton auditions between local and regional theatre gigs from a temporary home base in Los Angeles, where he moved soon after graduation.
“I did self-tapes. I auditioned in L.A. I auditioned in New York. I auditioned in open calls. I auditioned in small work sessions with the associate director for the show, the associate music director for the show. I’ve done every type of audition that you can do for Hamilton.”
Each time, Devereaux studied and incorporated feedback before the next audition. “I think that they saw how dedicated I was to it,” he said. When the good news arrived in an email from his agent, Devereaux called his mom, who cried.
And then, he said, “I was on my way.”
“He was talented and prepared and motivated and lucky, because that’s how it works in that profession,” said Harry Parker, professor of theatre. “He waited a long time to get into Hamilton. He knew long before they did that he should be in that show.”
The Room Where it Happens
Devereaux, who grew up in Houston, was a freshman in high school the first time he was cast in a play. He was pressured by friends to join a production of Bed, Breakfast and Broadway after someone dropped out. At the time, he said, he saw himself more as a bookworm than a performer.
But on opening night, something changed. “When I stepped on that stage, it was just such a different feeling,” he said. “And it just continues, even today. I still feel so connected to the moment and to the work that’s happening and to the people I’m doing this with. It’s a feeling of being in the zone.”
His talent was discovered by a classmate, Kelsey Milbourn ’12, who is now a professional actor and choreographer as well as a theatre instructor at TCU. The two, Milbourn said, met in a biology class and clicked as friends.
One day while studying together, Milbourn suggested that they come up with a tune to help with memorization.
“I started singing some facts, and he starts singing with me, and I remember being floored,” Milbourn said. “I remember my mouth being agape and saying, ‘John, I didn’t know you could sing like that. Have you ever considered being on stage?’ ”
TCU’s theatre department hosts national auditions for prospective students. Department chair Jennifer Engler estimated the overall admission rate at less than 7 percent. “We say no every year to amazingly talented people,” she said. “So, it’s pretty rare that we have someone who comes into our program that we didn’t meet in the recruiting cycle.”
Yet the theatre faculty encouraged Devereaux, who enrolled as a theatre minor before changing to a major.
Engler said Devereaux came to the department with a lot of natural talent and good instincts — and the sense that he had catching up to do. “The work ethic was just incredible,” she said.
“I just was like a sponge,” Devereaux said. “I was absorbing everything. And actually, my communication studies courses were very beneficial to me in my acting courses. … It gave me a way to understand why people do the things they do or why they say things the way they say them.”
Among his favorite roles at TCU was playing Mitch Mahoney in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which he said made him a more confident singer.
Devereaux also performed in an existential play by Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit, which required a lot of work as one of only three actors in the cast, Parker said. “It was a really difficult play and a really great performance.”
“One of the things that I’ve always admired about John’s acting is that it seems pretty effortless. He doesn’t seem to be acting. And that’s usually the goal, but it’s also so difficult to achieve. There wasn’t a performative air about him, but rather one of great reality and truth.”
“One of the things that I’ve always admired about John’s acting is that it seems pretty effortless. He doesn’t seem to be acting. And that’s usually the goal, but it’s also so difficult to achieve,” Parker said. “There wasn’t a performative air about him, but rather one of great reality and truth.”
Parker cast Devereaux in the musical Oklahoma!. “He played the sheriff,” Parker said. “And he was the sheriff, if you know what I mean — he commanded that authority and presence just the way it needed to be played.”
While acting and singing came naturally, Devereaux had less experience with dancing. He got a boost while rehearsing Oklahoma!, when the choreographer had him demonstrate a hitch kick and told the cast to emulate him.
“At that time, to get a compliment about dancing, I wasn’t comprehending it,” Devereaux said. “The entire faculty in theatre at TCU — every time I leapt, there was someone saying, ‘Come on, you can do it. Trust in yourself as we do.’ ”
Following graduation, he booked a summer production of Ragtime with a regional theatre; afterward, he moved to Los Angeles.
While based in California, he did Rent and Dreamgirls with La Mirada Theatre; the latter included a tour to Japan. He booked a world premiere musical, Recorded in Hollywood, about the life of record label owner and music producer John Dolphin. He even performed in the Hamilton spoof, Spamilton.
While he went on auditions for big TV and film projects, theatre directors kept hiring him. “I felt like I didn’t spend a lot of time in Los Angeles because I was still doing regional theatre,” he said. “They would cast me, and then I’d leave for six weeks.”
Devereaux decided to move to New York and had just arrived when he got yet another call to audition for Hamilton. “It was me, the dance supervisor for all the Hamilton companies, and one other guy was there. So I knew, like OK, this is the last one. This is it.”
That Would be Enough
One week after he was hired to be a part of Hamilton, Devereaux started rehearsals. Following 11 weeks of practice, he was ready to take the stage. His first performance was on June 6, 2019.
“Creatively, it is everything I thought it would be,” he said. “My favorite part of being in the show is working with these incredible people — onstage, backstage, just knowing them and being with them. I feel like I get better by osmosis.”
He said he looks up to Hamilton’s regular George Washington, Paul Oakley Stovall, as a performer and a person; both men have performed in Rent many times as well.
Devereaux said the joys of touring outweigh the challenges, but life on the road isn’t easy. He misses family and friends. The cast performs eight shows a week, with only Mondays off — and sometimes that day is used for traveling to the next city. “You’re a nomad; you just kind of move from place to place. … Some people don’t have a home address.”
He explores different cities by taking in the museums and eating at local restaurants. Devereaux unwinds by playing video games, reading self-help books and listening to his friends’ music. “They’re on repeat all the time,” he said. “I love listening to my cast mates’ music.”
The tour was in Miami in March 2020 when Covid-19 shut it down; Devereaux went home to Houston, anticipating a couple of months off. But the cast of Hamilton would not return to the tour until August 2021.
“I needed something to do, and that’s when a lot of people started getting on TikTok,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Let’s see what this is about.’ ”
He paid homage to Broadway, dressing up to look like show posters. He re-created his granny’s banana pudding. He did an unboxing video with a disappointing tortilla blanket.
“It’s kind of like what I do with theatre,” he said. “I just really want to entertain, and I want to perform, and I want to connect with people.” Today, his TikTok followers — 100,000 and counting — get glimpses of his backstage life and comedic musings.
Devereaux also used his downtime to launch a candle company, Of Yours. While sleeping in different hotel rooms from week to week, he got into the habit of burning the same candle scent at every stop to feel at home. He was inspired to create the line of candles with scents named after family and friends; Joyce, a gardenia and tuberose candle, is named for his mother.
In June 2021, the touring cast of Hamilton found out in a Zoom meeting that they’d be taking the show on the road again. “Everyone was clapping and shouting, everyone was excited,” Devereaux said. “But it was also a little scary. Because when you’re out of practice for a year and a half, you start thinking, ‘Can I still do this?’ ”
Rehearsals resumed, and yoga and meditation sessions helped soothe nerves. The tour picked up in August in Los Angeles, followed by dates crisscrossing the country. During the stop in Dallas in November, Devereaux came to TCU to give a class for theatre students.
You Can be a New Man
Devereaux said he’d like to stay on tour “until the wheels fall off,” but someday he plans to move back to Los Angeles. There, he wants to hone his TV and film skills.
“I feel like I’ve learned so much since being in Los Angeles,” he said. “And also I feel like the market is just more ready for me.”
While he has grown accustomed to rejection, he’s not jaded. He said it’s important to remain comfortable being vulnerable. “I have to take this piece of truth in the script or the choreography or in the libretto. And I have to add that to the truth that lives within me,” he said. “It’s a much more compelling performance that way.”
He finds motivation to perform night after night by thinking about the audience and how someone in the seats is seeing a musical for the first time. The first Broadway musical he saw was the national tour of The Lion King in Houston, where even as a student, he said, he was thinking, “I want to make people feel how I feel right now.”
When the Hamilton tour stopped in Houston in February, he was tapped to fill in for King George III, a comedic role, for four nights. The king treats the Founding Fathers as if they’ve broken up with him; among his solos is the wry “You’ll Be Back.”
The Houston Press called Devereaux’s performance “delightfully dippy,” while the Houston Chronicle wrote, “A highlight was watching John Devereaux as King George sing his deliciously comic numbers as the revolution evolves.”
Devereaux said he felt both a sense of duty and elation performing the role in his hometown. “I love being a king onstage. … Also, I enjoy getting the opportunity to really take a character as far as I can because he is a mad king,” he said. “I really do get to stretch my work in this role.
“Seeing King George III played by a Black man is going to affect how someone experiences the show, and I love that,” he said. “That, to me, is what theatre is about — offering new viewpoints, being challenged.”