» ‘Hamilton’ actor Wellington says his life changed after seeing the musical for the first time


Twenty years ago, Desmond Sean Wellington would never have dreamed of playing a short white president in a major Broadway musical. But that was before Hamilton, too.

Shortly after graduating from high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, Wellington, who plays James Madison and Hercules Mulligan in the national touring production of “Hamilton,” which premieres Tuesday at Proctors, was just beginning to explore musical options that lie before him from him.

“I had an engineering scholarship to the University of Arkansas, but after two years I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life,” Wellington said last week.

“I told my mom I didn’t want to finish school and I have to give her credit. She said to me, ‘I don’t know what you want to do with your life, but you’d better take this opportunity to find out what it is.’ She really gave me the push and motivation to go in a different direction.”

Although Wellington sang in his church choir for much of his childhood, he had no intention of making music his life’s work.

“I was an excellent student, and my mom and dad, who was in the military, couldn’t have had it any other way,” Wellington said. “I had sung in the church choir, but acting just wasn’t part of my experience. I saw a bit of Broadway on TV, but I never imagined doing musical theater.”

Wellington left Little Rock for Atlanta, where he began working as a backing vocalist for various music groups.

“It was a lot of fun and got some traveling and touring with a few artists,” Wellington said. “It was something I could do in my 20s, but I still thought, ‘Well, that was a nice experience.’ I still haven’t thought about doing it professionally.”

Then Wellington saw “Chicago” about 10 years ago.

“I didn’t see my first Broadway show until I was 30,” he said. “I saw ‘Chicago’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’d love to do that.’ A couple of my friends told me to go auditioning. I was like, ‘Yeah, OK, I can sing and dance and do all that stuff.’ ”

Wellington soon began doing regional theater and then in 2017 saw a touring company from “Hamilton” in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t know how long it would take or where it would happen, but I told myself I would be on this show,” Wellington said. “I had done just enough to get my equity card and then I saw ‘Hamilton.’ I realized this was the kind of show I wanted to be in.”

He saw “Hamilton” in August 2017 and less than three months later he was cast for the national tour.

“To see Hamilton as a black man and all these lead roles played by black actors was just incredible,” Wellington said. “People who looked like me weren’t just in the ensemble or in supporting roles. It changed my life. I auditioned, I joined the company as an understudy, and they just blew me away. I’ve been on the road ever since and I’ve got the show on my fifth anniversary.”

Wellington was originally brought on board as a replacement, ready to jump into a variety of roles at any time, but then jumped into his current status, playing Herculus in Act 1 and Madison in Act 2.

“I really didn’t want to know about this guy in high school,” Wellington said, laughing. “He was small, a politician and a statesman. I knew a little bit about him. I knew he was president, but I really got into the role with the script.”

“Hamilton” was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and premiered on Broadway in August 2015. It received a record 16 Tony Award nominations and won 11, including Best Musical. Miranda, who based his story on Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography of Hamilton, played the title role. In addition to Hamilton and Madison, other historical figures portrayed in the musical include Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington, while female characters include Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler Church, and Peggy Schuyler.

“To be a part of something like this, a fascinating story of our history told by an all-Black cast, is just amazing,” Wellington said. “And people are still fascinated by the story. They keep coming to the theater three or four times to see it again. It’s really a dream to be on something like this show.”

Wellington also played Madison and Hercules in the touring production that joined Proctors last year. Sometime in the next few months, however, he expects to end his five-year run on “Hamilton” and look for something else.

“Actually, I’m going to move to New York,” he said. “I never actually moved to the city because I was always on the go. All my mail still goes to my mother’s house. I have a car because growing up in the south we have cars. So I’m looking for an apartment across the river in New Jersey. I find that a bit more car-friendly.”

Wellington isn’t exactly sure what the future holds, but he knows he’s in the right business.

“I’ve had a lot of on-the-job training over the last five years,” he said. “My singing got me to the table, but now I’m an actor. That’s what I do. I’m living this dream I didn’t even know I had. I help bring that story into art, bring it to life. I feel very lucky.”


WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Tuesday, March 14 and runs through March 26; Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm; 13:30 and 20:00 Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $229-$49
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit or call (518) 346-6204

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