If you want desperately to see the national phenomenon that is Hamilton: An American Musical, join the crowd – the show is sold out through November, with available tickets in January of 2017 going for $512 a piece. With its hip-hop narrative of the life of Alexander Hamilton – the founding father on our ten dollar bills, and the founder of our National banking system – Hamilton is the next big thing in Broadway musicals, and people are lining up in droves to get a taste of this eye-opening phenomenon.
Written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind Tony Award winning musical, In the Heights, Hamilton takes diversity to a whole new level. It’s the story of our founding fathers told by modern-day American actors, meaning that the cast represents what our country really looks like today. It’s a refreshing and much-needed take on our history, and we dare anyone who listens to the soundtrack not to agree that it’s absolutely one of the most addicting, amazing, hard-to-put-down soundtracks out there.
So, we were beyond thrilled to have the chance to chat with “Hamilton” himself, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is an icon of diversity and chance for the Latino community. We were able to talk Hamilton, In the Heights, and many of his other exciting upcoming projects. We even gleaned some great insights into what goes on behind the scenes for someone as dynamic and hard-working as he is. The answers might surprise you. Let’s go.
It’s going to be impossible to ask you all the questions we’d like to ask! You have such a diverse resume! Let’s start with broadway. You’ve been involved in the writing of several shows – most notably, you wrote the music and lyrics and starred in both In the Heights and Hamilton. Between the two, which gave you more trouble? Was the creation process very similar between the two, or did you struggle more with one?
Each presented its own challenges. Heights was like grad school—I was learning how to write a musical while writing this specific musical at the same time, and the original story was created with Quiara Hudes, so I wrote a lot of material that never made it to the final version, through trial and error. There’s less of that with Hamilton. The challenge of Hamilton was this INCREDIBLE life—how do you tell that story in an evening? How much can you get away with, including while staying relatively historically accurate and true to the spirit of your main character?
Which character do you identify more with? Alexander Hamilton from Hamilton or Usnavi from In the Heights?
I identify with Hamilton’s awareness of the ticking clock—we have an unknown amount of time on this earth, so let’s get as much done as we can. I identify with Usnavi and his longing for community—I love my neighborhood, and feeling like I have a role to play within it.
Hamilton has really exploded into a national phenomenon this year! But it’s been in production for several years, and has been in previews since early 2015. What was the experience like for the show, as it moved from the early stages of production to previews, and finally, to front and center of Broadway in the national spotlight? What’s been the most rewarding moment thus far?
Hamilton has been an incredibly rewarding experience thanks to my collaborators—Thomas Kail, Alex Lacamoire, Andy Blankenbuehler. We worked together on Heights, and so we had a shorthand by the time we began Hamilton. Kail knows how to lead a room in an ego free way that lets the best idea win. It was that, for 6 years. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.
Every night with a new audience is the most rewarding. The week the cast album was released, and we let the world in on this secret, that only a few hundred people had seen, was another wonderful moment. You write because you have an urge to connect, so the moment of connection is the best.
You saw a void of good Latino roles in the theater world, and filled it with shows full of diverse roles. In particular, your decision to write Hamilton for a diverse cast, despite the historically all-white-male figures that the cast is portraying, is especially interesting. It really changes the entire flavor of such a historical play (you took a very different route from other historical plays, such as 1776). Here at Latin é, that’s exactly the kind of thing we get excited about! What went into making that decision? Was it a tough sell to get others on board with it? I mean, seeing Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson, in particular, portrayed by black men – that’s a bold and very genius move – did you meet any resistance for it?
Absolutely no resistance whatsoever. The cast looks the way it looks because of the score, which was always a mix of hip-hop, R&B and everything else I could write. The diversity of the cast reflects the diversity of the score, and of our country. So Kail continued that when he cast the show, and our producers were 100% on board with that vision. It only became a big deal when we put it out into the world.
What does diversity mean to you?
I’m interested in creating work that looks the way we look today, and sounds the way we sound today. Diversity is such a prerequisite for the work I do that it’s a given. It’s where I begin.
What advice can you give young aspiring latino artists who want to follow in your footsteps by continuing to diversify the world we live in?
Write. Stage Manage. Create the thing you think is missing in the world. I’m heartened by seeing more and more Latinos in prominent roles onstage, and now I’d like to see more backstage and behind the scenes. Work on your skills until you’re indispensable.
That’s some great advice! In addition to your stage roles, you’ve also guest starred on several major TV series, including How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family. What’s been your favorite guest spot thus far? Do you see yourself breaking into film acting in the future?
House was special, because it was my first, and it was very much created with me in mind, and we rehearsed it like a play. A week of rehearsal before shooting, which never happens in TV. So I really got to know the cast and crew and I’m still close with them. With regards to acting, I’m doing my best to try roles that will inspire me and feed my writing in turn. I’m always aware of both.
You’ve been involved in the narration of two of my favorite Latino books – The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Allire Saenz. What’s that process like? Would you like to narrator more audiobooks in the future?
Audiobooks are great fun and intimate work. It’s you and your engineer, 4 hours a week, and a cup of hot tea. It forces you to reckon with your voice, and with the words. I love doing them, but only if the book really inspires me, and I’m going to come out the other side a better actor and/or human, as I did with both Wao and Ari & Dante.
You really are a jack of all trades. You must have a very Hamilton-esque work ethnic. What’s a typical day for you like?
It’s not much different from your day. I spend too much time online, I do my best to make sure I’m home and in touch with my family, and I try to balance that with my work, which right now is acting in a show every night, but sometimes is staying up late writing a song.
Along those same lines, what’s your writing process? Do you have a set routine for your writing time while working on a project?
No, but I do have set deadlines, which creates a sort of schedule on its own.
What’s up next for you in 2016? Any new projects you can drop some hints about?
My days are filled with Moana, a Disney animated musical for which I am contributing music and lyrics. That comes out this November.
There you have it, folks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, diversifying our cultural world one project at a time! For more information on Hamilton visit the official Broadway musical website here. Follow Lin-Manuel Miranda and Latin é for the latest and greatest in Latino Entertainment!