Lin-Manuel Miranda is the young and tenacious phenom behind the Broadway musical hit Hamilton. Never heard of it? You’re about to. It’s a hip hop musical about one of the U.S.’s founding fathers that is so popular, a national tour from Chicago to LA was just launched. Here’s how Miranda created an artistic empire with his pioneering music and writing style.
Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, grew up listening to an eclectic mix of music in his bilingual home.
His house was filled with albums in English and Spanish, from artists like Bruce Springsteen and The Beach Boys, to Tito Puente and Willie Colón. As a teenager, Miranda also fell in love with rap acts such as A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan and Notorious B.I.G.
Miranda’s cultural influences inspired his breakthrough musical, In the Heights.
Credit: Steven Henry / Getty
During his time as a college student at Wesleyan University, Miranda started working on a draft for a play called In the Heights. The musical was set in Washington Heights, the Dominican-American neighborhood in New York City. After graduating college, Miranda worked as an English teacher while he tried to get In The Heights off the ground. In 2008, In The Heights made its debut, bringing salsa dancing, bodegas and rap music to Broadway. It soon became a runaway hit, earning 13 Tony Award nominations and winning four, including Best Musical.
The best part? It featured lots of Latinos. Here’s a taste of In The Heights:
Wondering why a Puerto Rican dude plays a Dominican? Miranda said he wanted to stay true to Washington Heights : “It wouldn’t be a fair representation of Washington Heights if I were playing a Puerto Rican. All you can do is give the most honest portrayal you can. When I speak Spanish in the show, it’s with a Dominican accent.”
After the success of In the Heights, Miranda got the idea for his next musical on the beach.
We’re not making this up. The popularity of In The Heights led to several acting and writing gigs for Miranda, including appearances on the shows House M.D. and Modern Family. When Miranda made time to go on vacation, he found inspiration for his next play, Hamilton, while reading an Alexander Hamilton biography in a hammock. Under blue skies. This IS the American Dream, people.
Miranda gave his first sneak preview of Hamilton to President Obama.
CREDIT: The White House/YouTube
Back in 2009 when Miranda’s star was rising, he dropped a few flows in front of President Obama. He was invited to the White House to perform during the White House Poetry Jam that year. His performance included the opening song to what would go on to become Hamilton the musical.
Since then, Hamilton has made its debut. Not only is it insanely popular on Broadway… the soundtrack is also a hit.
Miranda knows his hip hop, so he had Questlove and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of The Roots executive produce the soundtrack to Hamilton. It’s more than a musical about history – it’s making history. The lyrics and music are pushing Drake and Fetty Wap to runner-up positions. Who would have thought a musical would be the TOP RAP ALBUM?!
Miranda has plenty of famous fans, including J.Lo, who waits for him at meet-and-greets.
It’s probably safe to say you’ve made it big when your backstage squad for your own musical includes Jennifer Lopez. #BoricuaLove
And he’s not afraid to push the envelope – on stage and off.
In Hamilton, Miranda reminds everyone that America’s “founding fathers” were also immigrants. Miranda opens Hamilton with these lines:
“How does a bastard, orphan / son of a whore and a Scotsman / dropped into the middle of a / forgotten spot in the Caribbean / by Providence, impoverished, in squalor / grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”
And people are loving his unconventional take on history. Hamilton sold out even before it hit Broadway (it made almost $30 million in advanced ticket sales). With his impressive chops in acting, writing and singing, we’re looking forward to seeing even more triumphs for this modern Renaissance man.