Hamilton On Stage!

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.

What do you think Alexander Hamilton would have thought about Hamilton, and why?

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?

 

What do you admire most about Alexander Hamilton?

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.

 

What’s the best thing for you about playing Hamilton?

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.

 

Did you know a lot about Hamilton before the show?

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.

 

What’s the biggest challenge for you in portraying Hamilton?

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.

 

Why do you think Hamilton resonates with so many people at this point in U.S. history?

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.

 

How does the cultural diversity of the cast play into how people respond to the play and its music?

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.

 

Lyrics in “The Schuyler Sisters” song tell people to “look around” because “history is happening.” What do you think about that?

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

About Hamilton

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspired to write the play after reading Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow (2004) while on vacation.
  • Miranda performed a version of his opening song for Hamilton at a White House poetry event in 2009.
  • Miranda wrote the book, music, and lyrics for the show. He worked on the project for six years before it reached the stage. The show opened on Broadway on August 6, 2015.
  • The play was nominated for a record-setting 16 Tony Awards in 2016. It won 11 of those awards, including Best Musical. Also in 2016, an album recording of the original cast won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
  • The show’s popularity has made tickets extremely difficult to get, but the producers and the Rockefeller Foundation are making 20,000 tickets available to low-income New York City high school students for $10.