Theatre can be a fickle career. As seasons change, so too do the shows on offer, and job security is far from guaranteed. To be a stage performer is to look to the horizon at all times for the next thing, moving from production and production before the dust ever has a chance to truly settle. There is no “sure thing” in the theatre: even landmarks like The Phantom of the Opera close eventually!
This never-ending shuffling of the board means that it is exceptionally rare for an actor to find themselves at the same job from one year to the next. Miguel Cervantes, whose eight-year tenure as the titular man with a pen in Hamilton came to an end January 7, is a part of an exceedingly rare club: the longtime Broadway principals.
“I don’t know if there’s anything that will ever come to this level of fulfillment,” Cervantes confesses in the days after his final performance. Both his mind and body are struggling to adjust: shortly after stepping offstage for the final time, Cervantes came down with walking pneumonia, his first major illness in years. “Not even a stuffy nose!” Cervantes laughs. “I guess it’s my body’s way of getting it all out.”
Perhaps it was the last gasp of energy his body had left to give to the über successful musical that had so thoroughly changed his life. “I never missed one show sick. Not even once. And then, the minute I’m done with the most beautiful, affirming show…of all 2,013 shows, that final one was in my top three, easily. It felt so perfect, and then my body just crashed.”
For the last eight years, the father of three has poured his soul into the role of Alexander Hamilton, first serving as an alternate for the Broadway company, then originating the title role for show’s sit-down Chicago production. From there, he took over the role on Broadway, leading the show through the COVID-19 pandemic and Broadway’s return from lockdown, bringing his trademark charm to the scrappy founding father. Add it all together, and it becomes clear that no one has performed the role more.
According to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who made curtain call remarks at Cervantes’ closing performance, “That’s 6,039 hours you’ve been on this stage [as Hamilton], a total of 251.6 days, 24/7. In other words, to find someone who has been Alexander Hamilton longer than Miguel Cervantes, you have to go back to the late 1700s to talk to the original guy.” Miranda then quoted George Washington in the show by saying, “Now you get to sit under your own vine and fig tree, your legacy with Hamilton is firmly planted and will never be forgotten.”
Cervantes doesn’t like to think about that, though. “It’s hard to believe how much has happened over the last eight years…I keep thinking about how [my wife and I] stood in Tavern on the Green during the Tony Awards performance when I had just been given the role, and nobody knew about it. I watched them do ‘Yorktown’ and I just started crying, and couldn’t stop. We still haven’t.”
The consistency of the show is perhaps the only unchanging aspect of Cervantes’ life over the last eight years. While some changes were expected and accepted (such as his family moving from New York to Chicago and back to accommodate the sit-down production), others were far more difficult to survive.
On October 12, 2019, Cervantes’ daughter Adelaide passed away only five days before what would have been her fourth birthday. Adelaide’s brief life was inextricably tied to Hamilton: shortly after Cervantes’ was cast, Adelaide was diagnosed with a rare childhood form of epilepsy called Infantile Spasms (IS), which caused her to suffer dozens of seizures each day. Cervantes’ wife Kelly became a full-time caretaker for Adelaide and their young son, working alongside several doctors, nurses, and friends to keep Adelaide alive. Meanwhile, Cervantes acted out the horror of a parent losing a child onstage every day.
“I couldn’t have written a better version of this tragedy that we experienced,” Cervantes states, his voice low with reverence. “I say this all the time: You could have Hamilton, I don’t want it, if that meant we could have had a different ending for my daughter. But that was not the option I was given. Instead, this show gave me an opportunity to use my frustrations and anger and sadness.”
The Hamilton cast and crew gathered around Cervantes and his family with fierce devotion following Adelaide’s passing, holding them up as they suffered through the unimaginable.
As Cervantes faces a life offstage for the first time in nearly a decade, it is the company that he misses most.
“The pit of my stomach everyday at 6:30 is not about the words, it’s not about Hamilton the character, because I’ve done it enough. Everything that I could possibly put on that stage, I did. I’ll never say, ‘Oh, I just wish I had done this, or that,’ What I ache for is the relationships and the moments of personal connection with people backstage, the laughs, and the dad jokes, the drinks, and the moments that existed in between Hamilton the words and Hamilton the experience.”
Cervantes’ motivation for closing this chapter is simple. While he could have continued living a portion of each day as Alexander Hamilton, it became exceptionally clear to him that he was running out of time to play a far more important role: father.
“Could I have done Hamilton for another year? Yeah, sure. I could have kept going. But the reality of watching my son go from four years old to 11 years old right in front of my eyes…” Cervantes clears his throat, pulling himself out of a memory. “I’m needed somewhere else. And it’s a hard thing, because I’ve never closed a show. I’ve never left a show before, every show I’ve ever done in my entire life closed. Since I was a kid, I never left before the show closed. But the recognition of my own mortality, that my kids are getting older, and that life is moving…it was time.”
While this isn’t Cervantes’ theatrical retirement by any means, he does foresee himself being off stage for a while. Since Adelaide’s passing, Cervantes and his wife have adopted a third child, whose early years Cervantes now has a front row seat for, alongside his sons adolescent passion for baseball. A fan of the sport himself, Cervantes is going all in on supporting his son’s dream. He’s opened Dingers Batting Cages near the family’s home in New Jersey. The facility means that, in a literal way, Cervantes’ professional world is now wholly aligned with his personal.
“I’ve been performing for so long, it’s almost hard to imagine life without it. But I’m super excited to see what Fridays look like at home. Sure, opening night of a new show can be exciting. But last night, I got to help my son with his homework for the first time. And that’s the most exciting thing.”