For three years and three months, Miguel Cervantes has starred as Alexander Hamilton in Chicago’s dedicated production of “Hamilton” at the CIBC Theatre, the most financially and, arguably, artistically successful show in the history of the city. With more than 1,500 performances under his belt, Cervantes has played this role more than any other Alexander anywhere in the world, and for far longer than Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who created the musical version of this historic character and originated his performance and, of course, the renaissance of the Founding Father himself.
Accomplishment enough, surely, for Cervantes to be the Chicagoan of the Year in theater. But that is far from the whole Cervantes story.
Cervantes achieved this career milestone while caring, with his wife, Kelly, for a young family, including a 3-year-old daughter, Adelaide, who died in her mom’s arms in October after suffering from a rare and very severe form of early childhood epilepsy, diagnosed just as Cervantes was about to assume the biggest role of his career.
Even as the Cervantes looked after their own daughter, they became a highly influential spokescouple for the Chicagobased CURE, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy. If there was a public event in his honor, Cervantes invariably would turn attention to this cause. He gave speeches, as did Kelly, showed up at benefits, raised money, organized auctions, increasing epilepsy awareness at every turn. In short, he leveraged his own local celebrity, and that of the musical in which he found himself, to help other people.
“My work in ‘Hamilton,’ Chicago and the struggles we have had as a family are all, for me, forever linked,” Cervantes said. “I will never forget the audience response on the Tuesday night when I came back to the show a few days after Adelaide had died and came out on stage and said the line, ‘I’m Alexander Hamilton.’ It had never been like that before. Everyone was supporting Kelly, Miguel and (our son)
Jackson. I cannot tell you how much it meant to me that Chicago did that for us. I hope this city can understand how important they were to me, beyond the show and the support we’ve gotten for ‘Hamilton.’ Our experience here will never be re-created. Wherever we might go next.”
Unlike most actors in touring shows, then, Cervantes embraced his new home, becoming a Chicagoan. The Cervantes family bought a house in Bucktown, planted a yard and took advantage of Chicago’s schools and world-class medical care. They lived a quiet life. Yet eight times a week, Cervantes
was at the center of the biggest show here in a generation.
“I was a fan of Miguel long before I was an employer of Miguel,” Miranda said in an interview this week. “He is just one of those guys that can carry an entire show on his back. It came as no surprise to me that he performed the role longer than anyone else.”
“Miguel,” said the producer Jeffrey Seller, “is our rock, our leader, the beloved spark plug of our Chicago ‘Hamilton.’ And even now, he’s still on fire.”
“Honestly,” Cervantes said, “this has not just been a show for me. When people in Chicago think back on their ‘Hamilton’ experience, I will be the little fellow they will be thinking about. Honestly, I am just an actor, just a guy with a job who got lucky, who was in the right place at the right time, and while I am sure I will be in ‘Hamilton’ again, it never will be quite like this.’”
No actor in a Broadway show playing in Chicago ever has stuck around so long, nor become so part of the cultural fabric of a city, even as castmates have come and gone as the ‘Hamilton’ brand increased its visibility exponentially. “Obviously,” Cervantes says, “I knew all about Chicago’s reputation as a theater town. But I had no idea of the appetite here, and I did not know the people of this city would get behind someone in the way they all got behind me.”
Indeed they did. For very good reason. Cervantes was Alexander Hamilton in Chicago. From the beginning.
We’ll all remember his name.
For the 2019 Chicagoans of the Year, the Tribune asked each recipient the following questions about the decade of arts in Chicago.
Q: Looking back over the last decade, what do you think was the most important event that impacted the Chicago arts scene?
A: I’ve not been in Chicago very long, but it seems like the arts is thriving in the city. To have been part of something, ‘Hamilton,’ that has been a part of a social and political movement has been a highlight of my life.
Q: Looking ahead to 2020, what is the most critical issue that needs to be addressed for Chicago arts? And what person or institutions are best equipped now to have an impact on this issue?
A: I think politics and the social and political divides that are so apparent in society now will shape how artists create in the next decade. Climate change and fear for our future will be a huge driving force as well.
Miguel Cervantes plays the title character in “Hamilton” at the CIBC Theatre in Chicago.