Miguel Cervantes is still in awe that his “job” is to play Alexander Hamilton.
“Even three years later, the reality of it is not lost on me,” says the 42-year-old, who debuted in the production at Broadway in Chicago’s CIBC Theater when it opened on September 27, 2016. “Still, to walk out on that stage and be the guy that gets to do this is as unlikely now as it was then.”
“Hamilton” is more than a musical. The Tony-, Grammy-, and Pulitzer-winning show is a true phenomenon. When the curtain closes on the show here in January 2020, it’s estimated that over 2.6 million people will have seen it in Chicago (about equal to the city’s population).
The magnitude goes beyond the stage. Fans anxiously line up outside the back of the theater after the show to snap a pic or get an autograph. Chicago Public Schools have built the show into their curriculum. It’s ignited broader conversations on immigration, and sparked a renewed interest in American history.
“I’m just one sliver of that experience for so many people,” says the Dallas native, “It’s not just a cool show, we know how much ‘Hamilton’ has impacted people. It’s humbling, and I’m honored to do it.”
Through the years Cervantes’s performance has evolved, bringing a less nervous and more “grounded energy” to the Founding Father, “We are kind of the same person now,” says Cervantes, the only remaining lead from the original Chicago company. “He’s a part of my being.”
Where a missed word or two used to send the actor into a tizzy, he now laughs and moves on with ease. “It’s so ingrained in my body. I can now really sit down and engage in the moments of interaction.”
Each performance still feels different to Cervantes. On nights where his voice feels strong, the songs “Dear Theodosia” and “Hurricane” — two powerful ballads — are incredible moments, but when his voice “isn’t great,” those songs can be tough.
It’s been a journey, to say the least. And one that started prior to Cervantes moving to Chicago for the role. He hadn’t spent measurable time in the city before — only a brief drive-through with the touring cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in 2011.
But he was given invaluable advice by his director, Thomas Kail, that set the stage for his “Hamilton” role: “We don’t want to grace Chicago with our presence, we want to be embraced by Chicago.”
Cervantes has been fully embraced by Chicago. Which makes it even more remarkable to hear that, not too long ago, he was ready to leave acting behind. It was in 2015 and he just wrapped a one-year-run of Broadway’s “If/Then” with Idina Menzel at the Richard Rogers Theatre. His wife, Kelly, had a “grownup job” as a restaurant event planner and Cervantes had moved on to launching a baseball business for kids and teaching music.
“I had hot dinner on the stove every night,” says Cervantes, who had a toddler at the time, son Jackson (now 7), “It was a cool existence.”
Still, Cervantes used to tell people “If Lin-Manuel Miranda calls and wants me to be in ‘Hamilton’ then perhaps I will go give that a shot.” In 2016 he got that shot, and the move to Chicago for the lead forever changed the trajectory of his life.
While Cervantes experienced this “highest of highs” when landing the role of a lifetime, he also found out the “lowest of lows,” devastating news that his daughter Adelaide, now 3, had a rare form of epilepsy. Yet he embraces this as part of his story, and uses his “Hamilton soapbox” to support CURE Epilepsy, an organization close to his family.
The entire city has become, in a sense, his extended family. Named 2017 Chicagoans of the Year by Chicago magazine, he and Kelly have been ever-present across town. In addition to being an advocate for CURE, he’s given time to organizations like ACLU Illinois and also shown his city stripes by throwing out pitches at Cubs and Sox games.
The impact he makes on not just the community, but Kelly and the kids, has been unwavering. Kelly says it best in her blog, Inchstones (kellycervantes.com). In a recent post called “Hamildad” she reveals: “It is entirely possible that if you [saw] Miguel perform… that he came to the theater that day directly from the hospital: delivering me fresh clothes, meeting with doctors, and loving on Miss A.”
It’s now obvious that what was going to be just another chapter in Cervantes career has become so much more — encompassing making great friends and dedicating himself to a special needs community of patients, their families, doctors, and teachers.
So, when it was announced that “Hamilton” would leave Chicago in January, it hit Cervantes hard. “The idea of maybe having to put this [chapter] in the rearview mirror sucks,” he says. “My ‘Hamilton’ experience in Chicago — it doesn’t get better.”
As for what’s next is up in the air for Cervantes. He feels like he’s “not done being Hamilton.” Because given the expansion of touring companies around the world, “there will always be ‘Hamilton’ somewhere.”
But he is realistic that his family has limitations as to where they could live and being a self-proclaimed “ideas man” he’s always thinking of what could be outside of acting. His mantra remains: “There’s no one that will make a next for you unless you do it for yourself.”
One of those ideas? The Shu-Caddy, a product that holds golf accessories right on your shoe, made especially for people like Cervantes who loses stuff frequently. Although he doesn’t expect it to make him a millionaire, it’s certainly a passion project right up there with coaching baseball and teaching music.
Regardless of what’s next, like his character, he thinks a lot about the legacy he’ll leave.
“It could just be that guy that played Hamilton, but I hope it would be that guy that played Hamilton and did his very best to make a small difference in the lives of others.”
Have “Hamilton” mania? Get tickets at broadwayinchicago.com or go deep at these themed events and supportive initiatives.
Visit “Hamilton: The Exhibition” Explore the life of the Founding Father with interactive exhibits and audio narration by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Northerly Island, starting at $25. hamiltonexhibition.com
Buy Adelaide’s Blend The special coffee was created in honor of Cervantes’ daughter, Adelaide. 25% of proceeds go to CURE Epilepsy. Available at Fairgrounds Coffee + Tea (fairgrounds.cafe) and select Mariano’s (marianos.com). $15.99
Sweat at a “Hamilton”-Themed Cycle Class Spin to the soundtrack. First class, $15, drop-in $30. studiothree.com
AT THE SHOOT
We went to the “room where it happens” — Chicago’s CIBC Theatre — to photograph “Hamilton” lead Miguel Cervantes. The historic 1906 theater has hosted the musical for almost three years, and our time shooting backstage with Cervantes revealed the whole company has really made itself at home here. Read p. 8 for Cervantes’s reflections on the show’s bittersweet close.
Photographer Maria Ponce
Hair and makeup Lynee Ruiz
Wardrobe styling Wyll Knight
On the Cover Suit ESQ, T-shirt Rag and Bone, Shoes Bally, Watch Boss
Top of Post Jacket John Varvatos, Tshirt Wings & Horns, Jeans Banana Republic, Boots John Varvatos, Bracelet Stylist’ Own