Miguel Cervantes on using his platform as the star of HAMILTON to draw attention to the devastating effects of childhood epilepsy

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

When Miguel Cervantes texted me at dinner, I expected a polite request to postpone our interview to another time. And that would have been entirely fine. I had learned earlier that day that his two-year old daughter was in the ICU and he would be running late to his performance that evening as the title character in Hamilton at Chicago’s CIBC Theatre.

The fact that he could make it there at all was amazing to me.

When I saw him bring the house down just a couple hours later, I was in tears. After a decade of being a parent, any injury or illness to any of my kids renders me more or less useless. I tense up, I have trouble working, I feel it in my bones. But as Miguel heartbreakingly told me later, for families like his, that breakdown is a luxury they don’t have. Visits to the ICU become almost normalcy, and somehow, someway, you learn to deal, to work, to perform.

Over the last 18 months, Cervantes has garnered rave critical reviews for his take on Lin Manuel Miranda’s once-in-a-generation role. While Miranda invented the role with what the New York Times called a “propulsive mix of hubris and insecurity,” Cervantes brings a street swagger that somehow gives the character and the production an enlightening new edge.

More remarkable still is that for the entirety of Cervantes run, his daughter has been struggling with childhood epilepsy, a disease with no cure that can be particularly damaging to young children.

In the Spring of 2016, as Miguel recounts here, tiny Adelaide’s diagnosis was confirmed at the very time that Lin Manuel Miranda called him for a final audition to become his replacement. Miguel’s life was about to change in two incredibly different ways.

It is perhaps fitting that Miguel’s version of Hamilton is all fight, all scrap, all grit.

We talked about how his own makeup and background informed his acting choices. What was clear was that all the fights he’d won and lost to get him to this moment of career transcendence prepared him for what he and his family are fighting now.

Cervantes’ story is well-known in the Chicago area because of his star-making turn in Hamilton, but also because he and his wife Kelly have worked tirelessly in their new city to call attention to the myriad types and the devastating effects of childhood epilepsy. Almost half a million children in the US alone suffer from some type of epilepsy, and because of the variations and difficulty of diagnosis, there is a tremendous need for research, funding, and most importantly, attention.

Watching this breathtaking piece of art, watching Miguel, and knowing what he’s dealing with was quite simply awe-inspiring. Like any truly great piece of art, it makes you examine all your flaws, all your humanity.

Particularly during the second act, as Cervantes depicts by turns, a disengaged father, a doting father, an absent father, a gentle father, an overly aggressive father, I think of my 11-year old daughter sitting beside me. I think of those same versions of father I have played, do play, throughout the course of a year, a week even.

I watch the side of her face change in the flickering stage lights. I think of the moments when she was a baby, how amazed I would sometimes be at the fact that she was alive. That she made it HERE. I think of how she still looks at me at times with such love and devotion that I wonder who she thinks I am.

She has also begun to roll her eyes at me lately, and even scoff at me from time to time, as the teenager lurks within her. And I think how lucky I am to have even that.

At that same moment, the apex of Hamilton, we watch with tears in our eyes as Cervantes and his on-stage wife sing to each other the opening lines of the beautiful “That Would be Enough”:

Look around, look around
At how lucky we are to be alive right now
Look around, look around
Look at where you are
Look at where you started
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle
Just stay alive, that would be enough
And if this child shows a fraction of your smile, or a fragment of your mind
Look out world, that would be enough

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Please consider donating at www.myshotatepilepsy.org to benefit CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy), the Epilepsy Foundation, and children like Adelaide.

There’s also an amazing contest right now at www.omaze.com/experiences/miguel-cervantes-hamilton-vip?ref=hamilton where those who donate will be entered to win a trip to Chicago, dinner with Miguel, and tickets to Hamilton.

I can promise you, he’ll make it a special night.