Why Chicago's Hamilton is using his platform to help kids with epilepsy.

Have you ever been in the room where it happens? The actual room where Broadway musicals happen?

Imagine walking into that room. Now imagine seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda sitting there next to other iconic theater legends, waiting for you to begin your audition. It’s the biggest job interview of your life.

You start sweating. You get this random twitch. Dry mouth — you get the driest mouth ever. You forget all your lines.


All of the above would happen to anyone. Except for Miguel Cervantes.

At the very moment of his audition, he was thinking of another room.

All photos are taken by Joan Marcus, courtesy of "Hamilton: An American Musical" in Chicago.

The birth of his daughter Adelaide in 2015 brought indescribable joy to the Cervantes family.

At that time, Miguel had starred in several Broadway shows, including "If/Then," "American Idiot," and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." His wife Kelly was working successfully as an NYC event planner. Everything was going as planned for the young family.

But then, Adelaide started to get sick. Doctors couldn’t properly diagnose what was going on with her at first. Miguel — who was booking fewer and fewer auditions — decided to step away from theater to focus on taking care of Adelaide and his son, Jackson, while trying his hand at other business opportunities.

“I’m done with theater, unless Lin-Manuel Miranda calls me,” Cervantes recalls telling his friends. But then, Miranda called.

On the same day Adelaide had just been hooked up to a myriad of test machines, Miranda called Cervantes to come audition in the final callback to become Alexander Hamilton. He had to leave one room for another.

Half of my brain was over there wondering what's going to happen back at the hospital. The other half was ... auditioning for the biggest show and the biggest role ever,” Cervantes says.

Spoiler alert: He crushed it. Miguel Cervantes is Chicago’s Alexander Hamilton. He credits his worry about Adelaide for helping to land the role.

He didn’t have the dry mouth, the sweat, the random twitches brought about by nervousness. Even legendary theater producer Oskar Eustis seemed to notice something in Cervantes’ face, in his demeanor and body during his audition. Cervantes had only one thought going through his mind: “This is an errand. I've got to run this errand so I can get back to the hospital to my daughter," he recalls. “And I wasn't overwhelmed.”

As he takes the stage each night as Hamilton, Cervantes recognizes this role gives him the opportunity to help his daughter and other children like her.

Since moving to Chicago, Kelly and Miguel haven’t throw away their shot at making a huge difference for children with epilepsy like Adelaide, who was diagnosed with infantile spasms — one of the rarer forms of childhood epilepsy that can have serious long-term consequences.

Kelly reached out to Chicago-based Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) and together they launched a successful fundraising campaign. This included a raffle of Hamilton-themed prizes, like the chance to go caroling with the cast.

The support from the Hamilton community was nothing short of incredible, said Cervantes. “When I asked who [of the cast] was coming with me, who wanted to be a part of this, everyone, everyone was willing to do it, and as incredibly talented people they are all ready to share it and help the cause in any way they can,” he says.

The Hamilton world has supported several other causes along the way as well, from Miranda’s work with Planned Parenthood, to Javier Muñoz's work with STOMP Out Bullying, and the company's work with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

“I know how lucky I am to be able to use this platform for so much good,” Miguel says of the opportunity to help find a cure.  

“My daughter’s fight is the most important part of my life, and Hamilton is the vehicle that allows me to lead that charge. My daughter is absolutely why I was able to get here, and now Hamilton is helping us to get where we need to go.”

Every night Miguel Cervantes gets to be in both rooms. The first one is the room where one of the greatest musicals of all time happens. The second one is the room where his beautiful daughter falls asleep. Both always elicit standing ovations.

Watch the story of Adelaide and how Miguel and his family aren't throwing away their shot at finding a cure for her and the millions of others affected by epilepsy.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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