There’s no denying that the Chicago cast of Hamilton has big shoes to fill when it comes to living up to its award-winning New York brother. The insanely popular musical has won numerous awards, is beloved by critics and theatergoers, is already sold out through 2017 and is even planning a North American tour next year.
Telling the story of America’s Founding Fathers through hip-hop and a uniquely diverse cast, the show created by and starring actor-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda has achieved cult status. So what does it take to wear the mantle of the talented Miranda and do justice to a show that has won nearly a dozen Tony Awards? And why did the hit show choose the Second City as a second home?
Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia talked to performers Miguel Cervantes, who plays Alexander Hamilton in the Chicago production, and Ari Afsar, who plays Eliza Hamilton, about taking up Broadway’s most popular show. Below are highlights from their conversation.
On scoring their first major roles with ‘Hamilton’
Miguel Cervantes: I do have weird realizations sometimes because I remember six, eight months ago calling my friend and saying, “Hey can you get tickets? Do you think there’s any way I can get in? My mom’s coming to town.” I remember. I was that guy. I was one of the masses, the millions of people who were trying to just get a piece of it.
And here I am, onstage, about to sing “Hurricane” or about to do “My Shot,” (and) to be the person, be the contact for all these other people. And I do get sort of overwhelmed but it’s a weird feeling of, “Pinch me, is this actually happening?”
Ari Afsar: I always joke and say, “Ten years to get that overnight success.” Ten years of auditioning and doing everything, and then having this as the first “big break” couldn’t be asking for a better thing — not only because of the hype but also the material and content of what we are saying and putting into the world. Very rarely do we get the opportunity to express how we feel about the world and our personal opinions.
On auditioning and assuming he’d thrown away his shot
Cervantes: I went in, did a couple of songs — a little “My Shot,” a little “Yorktown” — and they said, “OK, great. Thank you.”
Tony Sarabia: Wait, let me stop you there. A little “Yorktown”? I understand that’s one of the hardest songs in the whole show.
Cervantes: And this was before there was a soundtrack, so I just had to learn it. It was a little clip of Lin singing to a sort of demo track. And I learned it that way … and I slammed all of these words into my brain and I did the thing. And Tommy (Kail) and Alex (Lacamoire), the director and the music director, were there and they said, “Great, thank you.”
And I closed the door to Hamilton. I said (to myself), “That would have been great — that’s such a great show — but it’s just not for me.”
So I saw the show in between and it was great, and I said, “Oh wow, it’s exactly like what everybody thinks it is.” That was in September of last year, and then this past May, I got a call to come in again. And I said, “OK, I know how this story goes. I know how this story ends. But of course I’ll go in. It’s Hamilton. I’ll probably go audition.”
And then four auditions later, I was in a room with 25 people — Lin was there — and it was feeling very close to a life-changing experience.
It couldn’t have been more of a different situation for me than three weeks prior to that, when I was not really doing theater anymore. I was more focused on other things. My daughter has epilepsy and we had just found that out, so she’s in the hospital while I’m auditioning.
So my life was going other places, and then all of a sudden these three auditions come in three weeks. And then I call my wife and said, “Um, so I think we’re moving to Chicago.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the ‘play’ button above to listen to the entire interview.