by Kathiann M. Kowalski
Alexander Hamilton fought in the Revolutionary War. He argued passionately for adoption of the U.S. Constitution. He helped shape the country’s financial system as its first secretary of the Treasury. And now Hamilton has a new role—as the lead character in a hit Broadway musical.
COBBLESTONE™ spoke with Miguel Cervantes, who has been part of the Broadway cast and will star as Hamilton when the show opens in Chicago in September 2016. Cervantes, who is Mexican American, grew up in Dallas, Texas. From there, he went to Boston, Massachusetts, and studied musical theater at Emerson College. He’s had multiple roles on stage and television and is excited to be playing Alexander Hamilton.
I think anyone who gets his or her story told in hip-hop rap fashion couldn’t possibly be upset about it. The fact that his story is being told and is being received with such open arms and such enthusiasm . . . would probably make the guy pretty excited—to know just how overwhelmingly people are flocking to hear his story. Who wouldn’t like that?
There’s something really refreshing about someone who says what they think [and] who doesn’t mince words. Everybody needs to have a friend like that.
The coolest thing about this [role] is learning for myself about his story and how he interacted and was motivated—and to show people how it all went down.
I didn’t even know about the duel until I saw the show for the first time. To tell a story about someone that people already “know” and then educate them more about his story is clearly interesting.
The hard part of this is obviously that none of us really know what he was like [despite] all of the writings. I’m reading Ron Chernow’s book right now, to understand how people felt about him. In the show, he’s such a cool guy. He’s a cool, rapping guy. In real life, you wonder who he was really and what his persona was as he walked around New York, the capital at the time. I’m going to explore that more, to see who this person really was, and how those relationships were with Washington, [Aaron] Burr, and [Thomas] Jefferson. Those relationships are so complex. I don’t think I’ll ever stop figuring that out.
I’m sometimes in awe of this thing that [Lin-Manuel Miranda] has created, the aura that it has, [and] the power that it has beyond being a successful theatrical production. At the end of the day, we’re up here to teach you something—whether it’s about life or emotion—and move you in some way.
When I saw it, in September of last year, I did not expect to be so overwhelmed by everything. There were flashes of sound and movement and the stage flowing. I just thought that I saw something amazing.
It’s a real story. This is how history happened. This is how our country came to be. These were real people. And in all that rap and all those words and all those rhymes, [the audience is] learning a little bit about how it all happened.
This is what our country looks like. It’s a mix of all of these types of people. Regardless of what the men and women looked like 200 years ago, what the people look like now is this. What the music sounds like is this.
I think that’s part of the magic of it—the storytelling aspect and the hip-hop style. The cultural diversity of the performers [reflects the diversity] of the people that you see singing those songs in pop culture.
[Our] George Washington . . . doesn’t look like the one on the $1 bill. That has an effect on how you think about history and how you think about how our country is now.
That phrase—“history is happening”—could not be more true now politically, socially, [and] environmentally. We are in just as much turmoil in our country now as they were then. Everything is changing. It will be a time [to which] people will look back and say, “Look at what happened.” I really hope we’re as successful as our buddy Alexander Hamilton when future generations look back to this time.
Photo of Miguel Cervantes: Nicole Johndrow