THEATER

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - A+E - By Chris Jones Chris Jones is a Tri­bune critic. [email protected]­bune .com

Miguel Cer­vantes,

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.

ZBIG­NIEW BZDAK/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

ZBIG­NIEW BZDAK/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Miguel Cer­vantes plays the ti­tle char­ac­ter in “Hamil­ton” at the CIBC Theatre in Chicago.

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