“I could not have had a happier place to go when I wasn’t in the midst of the tsunami — the wonderful tsunami — that was Hamilton,“ says the actor/playwright/composer/songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda of writing seven original songs for the Disney animated film Moana while simultaneously appearing in the biggest Broadway phenomenon in history.
In 2008, In the Heights, a show about three days in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights, debuted on Broadway, and quickly put Miranda firmly on the map — it won the best musical Tony and ran for three years. Ahead of his first vacation from it in 2009, Miranda visited the Borders bookstore that used to be in the Time Warner Center and bought Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography to bring with him. At an all-inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, he began reading it while laying in a hammock over a pool, and by the end of the second chapter, he says, "I realized this was a very compelling story and this was a hip-hop story” that could and should be told with color-blind casting to illustrate who we were then with artists who reflect who we are now. “I was never picturing the literal founders, even as I was reading the book for the first time,” he adds. “Even then, I’m thinking, 'Who’s the best rapper to play George Washington?’ It was the good idea that kept proving me right over the course of the book in lots of different interesting ways.”
In May 2009, Miranda received an invitation to perform a song at the White House, and decided that, rather than doing something from In the Heights, he would sing the first number he had composed for what he then envisioned solely as an album, to be called The Hamilton Mixtape. The footage went viral and, by 2012, when he was invited to be the focus of an American Songbook evening at Lincoln Center, he had written 10 more Hamilton-related songs to go with it. Soon thereafter, he secured financial backing to turn it into a full-fledged musical Off Broadway at The Public Theater, and he and Kail began readying it for that format. Meanwhile, seven months before rehearsals were to begin at The Public, Miranda was offered — and accepted — a chance to realize his lifelong dream of writing music for a Disney animated movie when the studio hired him to write seven songs for Moana, the story of a Polynesian princess, one of which became “How Far I’ll Go,” for which he received best original song Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe noms en route to his Oscar nom.
For most of the last two years, Moana and Hamilton have dominated Miranda’s time away from his wife and son, who was born three weeks before Hamilton first was mounted — not just writing music for Moana and performing seven times a week during Hamilton’s Off Broadway run at The Public (January through May of 2015) and its Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (August 2015 through July 2016), but also promoting both and, since his departure from Hamilton, constantly keeping a finger on the pulse of the show as it prepares to spread around the globe. (He still was part of the Broadway company during a “really tough” conversation about cast members’ desire for profit-sharing, which he recalls as “tricky for me,” but which ultimately was resolved amicably.) Only recently has he been able to shift part of his focus to other things, as well, including temporarily moving to London in order to act for Disney opposite Emily Blunt in a sequel to the 1964 movie musical classic Mary Poppins.
But, Miranda insists, Hamilton and Hamilton are not altogether in his rearview mirror. He just read In the Heights playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes’ first draft of a script for a film version of that show, and says a Hamilton film will happen one day, too — but not for years, so that people have ample time to see the stage version first. “I don’t think I’m done with that role, by any stretch,” he says emphatically. “It’s just a meal of a role. In other shows, maybe you have a part where you get to fall in love, maybe you have a part where you get to fight in a gun duel, maybe you get a part where you get to have an affair, maybe you get a part where you lose a loved one and get to explore all that. In Hamilton you do all of that! You do everything you do in life in two hours and 45 minutes. You live your fullest life. So that never gets old.”
IT was late and cold, and outside the nightclub Pacha in far west Midtown a boyish-looking man in a suit and sneakers was walking up to the front doors. Inside, the club was crowded: an eight-piece Latin band was playing, people were dancing and drinking tequila cocktails; it was, as little as the scene may have looked it, an opening-night party for a new Off Broadway musical.
The young man approached the large bouncers out front. “Let me in,” he said, laughing like an under-age teenager who knew he’d get away with it. “I’m the guy who wrote the play.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda was in a good mood, and for good reason. In the Heights, a Latin and hip-hop musical set in a block or two of the Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights, had just opened, after seven years of work, in a $2.5 million Off Broadway production.
‘Croods’ Director Teaming with Lin-Manuel Miranda
for Animated Musical
Variety reports that Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Moana) has set up another animated project, Vivo, with Sony Animation. Miranda will write several songs for the film while his Hamilton screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes will pen the script.
Originally set up at DreamWorks Animation,
follows a monkey
who loves music and adventure, leading him to make a dangerous journey
from Havana to Miami to fulfill his destiny.
Kirk De Micco
(The Croods) will direct. The movie is scheduled for a Dec. 18, 2020 release date.
I am the writer of Hamilton: An American Musical. Every word in the show—and there are over 22,000 words in the show—were chosen and put in a really specific order by me. So I am painfully aware that neither Philly nor the great state of Pennsylvania is mentioned in Hamilton, with the exception of ONE couplet in the song Hurricane, where Hamilton sings:
“I WROTE MY WAY OUT OF HELL
I WROTE MY WAY TO REVOLUTION,
I WAS LOUDER THAN THE CRACK IN THE BELL.”
That’s it! One blink and you miss it Liberty Bell reference!
I am also painfully aware that this commencement address is being livestreamed and disseminated all over the world instantly. In fact, “painfully aware” is pretty much my default state. “Oh yeah, that’s Lin, he’s…PAINfully aware.”
So, with the eyes of the world and history on us all, I’d like to correct the record and point out that a few parts in Hamilton: An American the Musical actually took place in Pennsylvania.
The Battle of Monmouth, wherein General Charles Lee, in our show, “S’ed the Bed” and retreated against Washington’s orders. According to Lafayette, this was the only time he ever heard George Washington curse out loud. That’s right, the father of our country dropped his choicest profanity and F-bombs in Pennsylvania.
The Constitutional Convention, wherein Alexander Hamilton spoke extemporaneously for 6 hours in what is surely the most un-Tweet-able freestyle of all time, happened right here in Philly.
In fact, Alexander Hamilton lived at 79 South 3rd Street when he began his extramarital affair with Mariah Reynolds, creating the time-honored precedent of political sex scandals and mea culpas.
You guys, The Good Wife wouldn’t even EXIST if Hamilton hadn’t gotten the ball rolling on this dubious American tradition, right on South 3rd street, right near the Cosí.
Finally, I need to apologize on behalf of the historical Alexander Hamilton, because if he hadn’t sat down to dinner with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, desperate for support for his financial plan, Philadelphia might well still be the U.S. Capitol.
Hamilton traded Philly away in the most significant backroom deal in American history. As the guy who plays Hamilton every night, let me get into character for a moment and say, “My bad, Philadelphia.” Thank you.
But take the long view, Motown Phillly. Who really won that deal in the end? Look at D.C: it’s synonymous with institutional dysfunction, partisan infighting and political gridlock. YOU are known as the birthplace of Louisa May Alcott, Rocky Balboa, Boyz II Men, Betsy Ross, Will Smith, Isaac Asimov, Tina Fey, Cheesesteaks, and you can have SCRAPPLE, SOFT PRETZELS, and Wawa HOAGIES WHENEVER YOU WANT.
YOU WIN, PHILLY. YOU WIN EVERY TIME. WATER ICE.
The simple truth is this: Every story you choose to tell, by necessity, omits others from the larger narrative. One could write five totally different musicals from Hamilton’s eventful, singular American life, without ever overlapping incidents. For every detail I chose to dramatize, there are ten I left out. I include King George at the expense of Ben Franklin. I dramatize Angelica Schuyler’s intelligence and heart at the expense of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal. James Madison and Hamilton were friends and political allies, but their personal and political fallout occurs right on our act break, during intermission. My goal is to give you as much as an evening as musical entertainment can provide, and have you on your way at home slightly before Les Mis lets out next door.
This act of choosing—the stories we tell versus the stories we leave out—will reverberate across the rest of your life. Don’t believe me? Think about how you celebrated this senior week, and contrast that with the version you shared with the parents and grandparents sitting behind you.
Penn, don’t front. You’re a Playboy Magazine ranked Party school—you KNOW you did things this week that you’re never mentioning again. I know what you did this summer!
I’m going to tell you a story from my twenties today—a story I’ve never told in public before. I’ll tell you two stories actually. It’s my hope that it’ll be of use to you as you stare down the quarter life marker.
I am 20 years old, finishing my sophomore year at Wesleyan, and my girlfriend of four and a half years is home from her semester abroad. I cannot wait to see her again—she is my first love. I dread seeing her again—I’ve grown into my life without her. In her absence, with time and angst to spare, I have developed the first draft of my first full-length musical, an 80-minute one-act called In The Heights. I have also developed a blinding pain in my right shoulder, which I can’t seem to stop cracking. My girlfriend comes home. I am so happy to see her, even as my shoulder worsens. My mother takes me to a back specialist, ranked in New York Magazine, so you know he’s good.
He examines me, looks me dead in the eyes, and says, “There’s nothing wrong with your back. There will be if you keep cracking it, but what you have a nervous tic. Is there anything in your life that is causing you stress?” I burst into tears, in his office. He looks at me for a long time, as I’m crying, and get this—you’ll appreciate this Renee—he tells me the story of Giuseppe Verdi. A 19th century Italian composer of some note, who, in the space of a few short years, lost his wife and two young children to disease. He tells me that Verdi’s greatest works—Rigoletto, La Traviata—came not before, but after this season of Job, the darkest moments of his life. He looks me in the eyes and tells me, “You’re trying to avoid going through pain, or causing pain. I’m here to tell you that you’ll have to survive it if you want to be any kind of artist.”
I break up with my girlfriend that night.
I spend the summer in therapy. I tell a lot of stories I’ve never told before.
My father asks my mother, “What the hell kind of back doctor…Verdi? Really?”
I stop cracking my shoulder.
The story I had been telling myself—happy guy in a long-distance relationship with his high school sweetheart—was being physically rejected by my body via my shoulder. I’d never broken up with anyone before—in my head, I was a “good guy,” and “good guys” don’t break up with their significant others when one of them goes off to study abroad. I was trying to fit my life into a romantic narrative that was increasingly at odds with how I really felt. In retrospect, we both were.
What about her story? Well, it’s not mine to tell, but I can share this much: she began dating one of her good friends the following year of college. Fast-forward to present day: She is happily married to that same good friend, with two beautiful kids. In her story, I am not the angsty, shoulder-cracking tortured artist. I’m the obstacle in the way of the real love story. For you Office fans: They’re Jim and Pam, and I’m Roy.
Story #2: I am out of college, I am 23 years old, and Tommy Kail and I are meeting with a veteran theater producer. To pay rent I am a professional substitute teacher: at my old high school. Tommy is Audra McDonald’s assistant. Tommy is directing In The Heights, and with his genius brain in my corner, my 80-minute one-act is now two acts. This big deal theater producer has seen a reading we put on in the basement of The Drama Book Shop in mid-Manhattan, and he is giving us his thoughts. We hang on his every word, this is a big deal theater producer, and we are kids, desperate to get our show on. We are discussing the character of Nina Rosario, home from her first year at Stanford, the first in her family to go to college.
The big deal theater producer says:
“Now I know in your version Nina’s coming home with a secret from her parents: she’s lost her scholarship. The song is great, the actress is great. What I’m bumping up against, fellas, is that this doesn’t feel high STAKES enough. Scholarship? Big deal. What if she’s pregnant? What if her boyfriend at school hit her? What if she got caught with drugs? It doesn’t have to be any of those things, you’re the writer—but do you see what I’m getting at guys, a way to ramp up the stakes of your story?”
I resist the urge to crack my shoulder.
We get through the meeting and Tommy and I, again alone, look at each other. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it.
“Nina on drugs—“
“I was there.”
“But he wants to put our show up.”
Tommy looks at me.
“That’s not the story you want to tell and that’s not the show I want to direct. There are ways to raise the stakes that are not THAT. We’ll just keep working.”
If I could get in a time machine and watch any point in my life, it would be this moment. The moment where Tommy Kail looked at uncertain, frazzled me, desperate for a production and a life in this business, tempted, and said no for us. I keep subbing, he continues working for Audra, we keep working on In The Heights for five years until we find the right producers in Jill Furman and Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller. Until Philly native Quiara Hudes becomes my co-writer and reframes our show around a community instead of a love triangle. Until Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman take my songs and made them come to life through their orchestrations. It will be another five years before Heights reaches Broadway, exactly as we intended it.
And then the good part: Nina’s story that we fought to tell, keeps coming back around in my life. It comes around in letters, or in the countless young men and women who find me on the subway or on college campuses and take my hand and say, “You don’t understand. I was the first in my family to go to college, when I felt out of place like I was drowning I listened to “Breathe,” Nina’s song, and it got me through.” And I think to myself as these strangers tell me their Nina stories, “I do understand. And that sounds pretty high stakes to me.”
I know that many of you made miracles happen to get to this day. I know that parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and family behind you made miracles happen to be here. I know because my family made miracles happen for me to be standing here talking to you, telling stories.
Your stories are essential. Don’t believe me?
In a year when politicians traffic in anti-immigrant rhetoric, there is also a Broadway musical reminding us that a broke, orphan immigrant from the West Indies built our financial system. A story that reminds us that since the beginning of the great unfinished symphony that is our American experiment, time and time again, immigrants get the job done.
My dear, terrified graduates—you are about to enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives.
The stories you are about to live are the ones you will be telling your children and grandchildren and therapists.
They are the temp gigs and internships before you find your passion.
They are the cities you live in before the opportunity of a lifetime pops up halfway across the world.
They are the relationships in which you hang on for dear life even as your shoulder cracks in protest.
They are the times you say no to the good opportunities so you can say yes to the best opportunities.
They are what Verdi survived to bring us La Traviata.
They are the stories in which you figure out who you are.
There will be moments you remember and whole years you forget.
There will be times when you are Roy and times when you are Jim and Pam.
There will be blind alleys and one-night wonders and soul-crushing jobs and wake-up calls and crises of confidence and moments of transcendence when you are walking down the street and someone will thank you for telling your story because it resonated with their own.
I feel so honored to be a detail, a minor character in the story of your graduation day.
I feel so honored to bear witness to the beginning of your next chapter.
I’m painfully aware of what’s at stake.
I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2016.”
So when do you think the In The Heights Movie will come out?
Last I heard there was a final script now? (Written by Lin’s collaborator, neighbor and friend Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book for the musical.) I really don’t know, I’ve never followed a movie production before but I know there can be various roadbumps, so I’m not sure even what a range would be.
Hello! I sincerely hope that I'm not bothering you, but, seeing as how you obviously have grand knowledge of the topic, I was curious about In The Heights. I've been a Hamilton fan since it came out, but just recently I've been completely consumed by Lin-Manuel Miranda's other works. Is it something you would recommend checking out? What's it about? Is there anything you wish you had known before immersing yourself into the musical? Sorry for the long Ask, and thank you so much for your time! :)
Okay I’ve been putting off answering this ask because I really want to make it perfect, but you know what, perfection is fake so here’s just my honest answer.
Do I recommend In The Heights?
YES! Oh my god, yes. Personally, I believe that it is as good as Hamilton and deserves way more recognition.
What’s it about?
In The Heights is about the Caribbean/Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights. The themes are: gentrification, the concept of home, identity, community, family love. There are several stories in the musical but the two protagonists’ stories are: Usnavi, bodega owner, finds how to embrace and accept both his love for the Dominican Republic and desire to go back, and his American identity ; Nina, the barrio’s best, the first to go to college, dropped out of school and her family deals with that situation.
For me what In The Heights is doing best is showing that everyone, every immigrant and child of immigrant has a completely unique and valid story, that they all relate to their Latino identity in a different way, that they all have a different relationship with the country they or their family came from. There is a very strong sense of love between these characters, romantic love but mostly platonic love, how everyone appreciates each other and how tightly knit the community is.
Things I wish I’d known before immersing myself in the musical?
The one big thing to know is that the songs don’t cover the whole musical. They cover about half. The acted scenes between the songs are essential to the plot and cannot be skipped. There are several ways to have access to these scenes:
NOTE: Some lines were changed between the writing of the book and the actual stage production. Some lines were added, some removed, and some scene instructions don’t match what was played on stage.
− Watch an amateur version on YouTube. One that is recommanded a lot is this one at the Irvington Theater and while it is overall a pretty good production with a lot of personality, I don’t really like their Vanessa, and since she’s my favorite character, that makes me not a fan of this version. I recommend this one. The quality of the video is not as good but their Usnavi is outstanding, the best amateur Usnavi I’ve ever seen.
− Find a bootleg and watch it. I’ve explained my stance specifically on In The Heights bootlegs here. I have a link to a bootleg that I’m willing to share in private messaging only. You’ll see the scenes acted out by the original cast the way it was on stage, which is not the same as being in the room but is the closest possible thing we have access to.
I strongly recommend that all Hamilton fans check out In The Heights, because it’s honestly very high quality content and it deserves so much love. It’s Lin’s love baby and it’s amazing.