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A Look Back At Hamilton's Impact On Chicago
After an extended run that captivated theatergoers, the iconic musical leaves a resounding legacy in the city 
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Cast members (left to right) Chris De'Sean Lee, José Ramos, Wallace Smith and Cervantes. Below, Karen Olivo (center), Ari Afsar and Samantha Marie Ware. 
Brett Beiner Photography
In the long-running and historic production of Hamilton in Chicago, Miguel Cervantes led a diverse, talented cast in his portrayal of Alexander Hamilton. 
  WHEN the final curtain went down on January 5 to signal the end of the remarkable Chicago run of the hit musical Hamilton, the innovative show left an incredible legacy that includes being the most successful theater production in Chicago, one that produced an amazing financial and cultural windfall for the city.
   Described by some as “a colossal triumph,” Hamilton, created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, was a phenomenon in Chicago, which presented the first production of the musical outside of New York. Incredibly, nearly three million people experienced the groundbreaking musical that came with unprecedented anticipation. Its first performance was September 27, 2016, at the then PrivateBank Theatre (which later became the CIBC Theatre) and produced 1,365 performances over 171 weeks at the 1,800-seat theater, generating more than $2 million in ticket sales each week. Estimates are that it produced $400 million at the box office, making Hamilton the most financially successful show in the history of theater in Chicago. It also produced $100 million a year in economic activity for the city. "It has been pretty extraordinary," says Miranda, who starred in the original Broadway cast. "And it has been my entry point for falling in love with Chicago." 
   Surprisingly, considering its financial success, Hamilton is not the longest-running show of its kind in Chicago. While some observers point to Wicked, which played at the Oriental Theatre between 2005 and 2009 (several months longer than Hamilton’s three-years-plus), generating 1,500 performances and grossing more than $210 million, its extraordinary run falls short of the 1,949 performances of Million Dollar Quartet, which ran for five years and focused on a special, one-time musical gathering that included Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. 
   While the Chicago numbers associated with Hamilton are impressive, its’ not all about the numbers associated with a musical that tells the story of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, a West Indian who became George Washington’s most trusted associate during the Revolutionary War and was the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Led by Miguel Cervantes in the title role of Hamilton in Chicago, the musical broke new ground with its combination of hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, soul, R&B and traditional show tunes, and essentially revitalized and reshaped the presentation of the usual Broadway musical. But perhaps more important is the fact that the show opened doors widely to leading roles that often are not available to actors of color. “I tell people a lot that this whole Hamilton journey feels like one very, very long day with crazy, different things that happen during that day,” says Cervantes, who has declared himself a Chicagoan. “It was a dream come true; a dream I never really knew I had. It was a dream that I didn’t really understand when it all happened. So it’s hard to believe it’s been so long.”
   During that stint, the excitement and energy surrounding Hamilton was palpable, beginning with long lines of highly enthusiastic fans camping out for 24 hours in an attempt to be among the first at the Hamilton box office window when tickets went on sale in June 2016. That excitement later produced a spinoff of sorts with the debut of Hamilton: The Exhibition, a temporary, 35,000-square-foot museum at Northerly Island that highlighted Alexander Hamilton’s life and times.
   With Hamilton’s departure from Chicago, there are current and upcoming productions of the multiple Tony Award-winning musical in New York, San Francisco and various other cities scheduled on two U.S tours. Fortunately, for fans in Chicago who missed the trailblazing musical or for the 2.8 million who want to see it again, producers say there is a possibility that Hamilton will return to Chicago. If it returns, it’s likely to have a different cast. Whether Cervantes is again in the lead role remains to be seen, but as this personal and professional chapter closes, he is reflective about what he has called one of the most important stages in his life. “The amazing part about this show––the words, the staging, the situations, the relationships that are created––is that it is so solid and easy to find the moments. I will miss this terribly. No matter what happens next, this will be the one thing I’ll be remembered for––the legacy that it left in my professional career. I am happy that it was this [show] and that it was in Chicago."
Photographs by Joan Marcus
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