Lin-Manuel Miranda and His Musical “Hamilton”

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A playwright, a lyricist, a composer, an actor and a rapper can all be found in one person: Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is most known for his groundbreaking musical Hamilton but has made numerous other contributions to the world of theater. Beyond the stage, Miranda has left his mark on the film industry and continues to use his platform for political activism. Lin-Manuel Miranda has used his writing to bring about a change in musical theater and inspire those that experience his works.

From his early childhood, Miranda was surrounded by hip-hop and musicals. The Puerto Rican playwright was born on January 16, 1980 to Luis Miranda Jr. and Luz Towns. Growing up in Inwood, a town in northern Manhattan, the Mirandas could not always afford to see Broadway shows, so Miranda made use of the cast recordings his father had accumulated. “The only shows I saw as a kid,” Miranda comments, “were that holy trinity: ‘Les Miz,’ ‘Cats,’ ‘Phantom,’” (Paulson). In addition to his musical theater background, Miranda was also influenced by hip-hop and rap. This influence primarily came from his bus driver, Billy Baker Jr., who “had a passion for rap, drilling him in lyrics by Boogie Down Productions, Geto Boys and the Sugarhill Gang,” (Paulson). The introduction of these two seemingly incompatible genres at an early age was what enabled Miranda to produce the show that impressed millions.

Throughout his school years, Lin-Manuel participated in numerous productions. He was the lead in The Pirates of Penzance, Captain Hook in Peter Pan and performed in The Wiz, Fiddler and West Side Story (Paulson). Not only did Miranda act, he also wrote his own pieces. “My first musical got accepted when I was a junior in high school. It was called Nightmare in D Major. It was about a dream, a trip through the subconscious,” (Fierberg). At the age of 16, Lin-Manuel was already using his musical influences to move audiences through his work. These were just the humble beginnings for the future playwright, and as he grew older, his talents developed.

Miranda went from writing 15-minute pieces to writing his first full musical when he enrolled in Wesleyan University. In 1999, with the help of his friend Thomas Kail, Miranda started working on In The Heights, a musical that combined hip-hop and Latin music to tell a story about the Hispanic community. After eight years of writing, Miranda opened the show Off-Broadway in February 2007 as the lead role, Usnavi (Murray). By the fifth month, In The Heights moved on to Broadway, where it ran for three more years. As the musical increased in popularity, Miranda eventually retired his role as Usnavi in order to make time for the opportunities that were surfacing.

In between his two hit musicals, the rising playwright contributed his talents to other productions. Because of his Puerto Rican heritage, he was invited to work on a bilingual version of West Side Story. Although the Spanish lyrics added to the authenticity of the Puerto Rican characters, critics commented on the fact that “for people who don’t understand Spanish, the impact [of the lyrics] was diluted,” (Healy). Another project Miranda worked on before Hamilton was Bring It On The Musical. Along with Tom Kit and Miranda Green, Miranda co-wrote the music for the stage adaptation of the original movie (Snetiker). Bring It On did not last long on Broadway, but it still managed to win a Tony for Best Musical. The experience Miranda gained from these projects prepared him for the huge production he had in store.

It was while Lin-Manuel was on vacation that inspiration struck for his game-changing musical, Hamilton. In 2004, an 800-page biography about America’s first Secretary of Treasury had been written by Ron Chernow. It gained fame on a national level and when Miranda read the book, he was immediately inspired. According to Miranda himself, Alexander Hamilton “is part and parcel with the hip-hop narrative: writing your way out of your circumstances, writing the future you want to see for yourself. This is a guy who wrote at 14, ‘I wish there was a war.’ It doesn’t get more hip-hop than that,” (McCarthy). With that in mind, Miranda began to work on what was originally a mixtape about the Founding Father. However, as time went on and his work became more and more popular, the mixtape began to take the form of a full-length musical.

The next six years for Lin-Manuel were filled with song writing, performances and rewriting. After spending a year working on the first song, Miranda debuted it at the White House during an evening of music, poetry and spoken word. “I’m actually working on a hip-hop album,” he had told the audience, “It’s a concept album about the life of someone I think embodied hip-hop: Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton,” (Vankin). At the end of the song, Miranda was given a standing ovation and the press for Hamilton had begun. “My Shot” was the next song Miranda worked on and it took him another year to finish it. “Every couplet needed to be the best couplet I ever wrote,” Miranda told 60 Minutes, “That’s how seriously I was taking it,” (McCarthy). Influenced by his past, Lin-Manuel drew heavily from his favorite hip-hop artists and incorporated their styles into his work. The amount of time he put into the musical was evident; he was able to successfully impact audiences with every line that he wrote.

One of the most notable characteristics of Hamilton is its diverse cast. The only white actor with a lead was Jonathan Groff (King George); everyone else was Hispanic, African-American or Asian. “This is a story about America then, told by America now, and we want to eliminate any distance—our story should look the way our country looks,” Miranda had explained (McCarthy). Part of this diverse cast was Christopher Jackson, who had already performed with Miranda in In The Heights. Other cast members include Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo and many more. When deciding which role Miranda wanted for himself, he realized that in Hollywood, he’s always been cast as the best friend of the white lead; if he wanted to be the lead, he would have to write it. Describing his experience as Hamilton, Miranda said, “I get to be cockier than I really am; I get to be smarter than I really am; I get to be more impulsive than I really am,” (McCarthy). With the lyrics finished and his cast picked out, Miranda was ready to bring Hamilton to the stage.

The show first premiered Off-Broadway at The Public Theater. It started running in January 2015 and was so successful it was moved to Broadway by July (Murray). Everyone from critics to celebrities were giving Hamilton incredible reviews. Charles McNulty, a Los Angeles Times theater critic, called it “one of the freshest musicals to come around since Rent burst onto the scene two decades ago,” (Vankin). Weird Al Yankovic perfectly summed up why everyone was so enamoured by Miranda’s musical. “For decades there has been a disparity between the kind of music that one hears on the Broadway stage and the kind that one hears on the radio or in the clubs,” Mr. Yankovic said. “By working with a more contemporary musical palette, Lin-Manuel is erasing that line in a major way,” (Paulson). Hamilton began to spread to cities all over America and eventually made it across the ocean to London. The hip-hop musical that some may have been skeptical of in the beginning turned out to be an international hit.

While Hamilton was in its early stages, Miranda had help from some notable figures. Thomas Kail, the director of In the Heights and Miranda’s college friend, came back to direct Hamilton. Ron Chernow, the author of the book that inspired it all, ended up becoming a historical consultant for the musical. Stephen Sondheim was Miranda’s mentor and would critique the drafts that Miranda would send to him (McCarthy). All these talented individuals came together to make Hamilton the best that it could possibly be.

Outside of musical theater, Miranda got involved in the movie industry. He participated in co-writing the songs for Moana with Mark Mancina and Samoan’s Opetaia Foa’i and wrote the music and lyrics for “How Far I’ll Go” by himself (Cavna). He also wrote cantina music for Star Wars: The Force Awakens titled “Jabba Flow” (Kreps). On screen, Miranda will be co-starring with Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep in Mary Poppins Returns in 2019. Miranda’s fame has allowed him to spread his talents outside of musical theatre.

For In The Heights, Hamilton and his other works, Lin-Manuel Miranda has received many awards. In 2008, In The Heights won four Tony Awards, including best musical and best original score. It was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and won a Grammy in 2008 for Best Musical Theater Album (Murray). In 2015, Lin-Manuel received a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Foundation for reimagining mainstream theater. The next year, Miranda earned more awards for Hamilton than any other show he was involved in. Hamilton won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for 16 Tony Awards, which was the highest number of nominations in history. Hamilton ended up winning 11 of the 16 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and it also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. In 2016, Miranda also earned his first Academy Award nomination for his song, “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana (Murray). At the young age of 37, Miranda had accomplished more than many other playwrights and lyricists did in a lifetime.

Miranda has also used his platform to raise political awareness for issues that are close to his heart. When Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated, Lin-Manuel arranged a Hamilton performance with him returning as the role of Alexander Hamilton. All proceeds from the performance were donated back to Puerto Rico in order to fund hurricane relief efforts (Shugerman). Miranda was able to use his success to give back to his homeland and pay homage to what started his career.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has left his mark on the world of theater. He’s more than just a playwright, an actor, a lyricist or a composer. The works he puts out into the world carry messages of bravery and add diversity to the industry. In the words of George Washington from Hamilton, “History has its you,” and everyone is certainly watching Lin-Manuel as he continue to rise to the top.

Works Cited

  1. Cavna, Michael. “Where Lin-Manuel Miranda Got Inspiration.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 21 Feb. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/comic-riffs/wp/2017/02/21/where-lin-manuel-miranda-got-inspiration-for-his-oscar-nominated-moana-song/?utm_term=.5b3d338f1b6a.
  2. Fierberg, Ruthie. “Watch This Never-Before-Seen Video of Lin-Manuel Miranda.” Playbill, PLAYBILL INC.,

Cite this paper

Lin-Manuel Miranda and His Musical “Hamilton”. (2022, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/lin-manuel-miranda-and-his-musical-hamilton/

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