On the 212th anniversary of Hamilton’s death, the playwright has come to this place, situated among the skyscrapers in Manhattan’s financial district, to commemorate the American founding father who inspired his Tony-winning, smash-hit, Broadway musical.
Three nights earlier, on July 9, he chopped off his signature black, shoulder- length locks minutes after the last curtain came down on his final of 375 Broadway performances. On that night, scalpers (no pun intended) asked upward of $10,000 a ticket for the last chance to see the pop-culture sensation with the man who created, composed, and starred in it.
Not since Carrie Bradshaw knocked on the window of Mr. Big’s town car in “Sex and the City” has a New York story made such a monstrous cultural splash. “Hamilton,” which opened on Broadway in August 2015, not only accomplished the seemingly impossible task of making musical theater hip again, but it also lifted Broadway into the cultural conversation of celebrities, politicians, and academics around the country — and changed the temperature on 46th Street.
During Miranda’s yearlong run in the show, “Hamilfans” camped on the sidewalk all night in the hopes of getting a ticket. Mosh pits formed at the stage door. Miranda gained powerhouse super-fans like the Clintons, who saw the show over the July 4 weekend, and the Obamas, who introduced the musical at the Tony Awards ceremony — which “Hamilton” dominated. For many audience members, “Hamilton” wasn’t just a Broadway show — it was the play that changed their lives. In a couple of senses, it made history. The pandemonium turned Miranda into a household name.
“I never, ever, tweet,” says composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, “but I broke my rule after ‘Hamilton.’ ” Webber, whose musicals include “Cats,” “Evita,” and “Phantom of the Opera,” caught “Hamilton” in a preview performance at the Public Theater in January 2015. “It was the most exciting thing I’ve seen in 50 years,” he says. “And it was the first time I’d seen something that was taking musical theater in a direction that’s entirely original. Lin is going to be an enormous force in theater for many decades to come.”
Today, at Trinity Church, fans are clustered on the other side of a wrought iron fence, buzzing with excitement when they see Miranda. One of them wears a “Hamilton & Washington & Jefferson & Madison & Burr” T-shirt. Another has a lyric from the show tattooed on her forearm. Miranda heads over to chat, take selfies, and sign the souvenir program that one of them happens to be carrying with her. Heads turn, and onlookers gather.
This is his life in the wake of “Hamilton.”
The phenomenal success of “Hamilton” has positioned Miranda on a career summit from which he can do pretty much anything he wants. All his fans are watching to see what he’ll do next and wondering how he can possibly top himself.
Pondering the question, Miranda admits he has his eye on directing a movie musical someday.
“That’s one of those things that I would kick myself if I didn’t try to do,” he says. “That’s a bucket-list thing.”
Would he direct the inevitable “Hamilton” movie? Don’t ask. In fact, don’t ask him anything about a potential film adaptation, because there’s “really nothing” to say, he insists.
“I haven’t had one meeting with one director. It’s something that I’m really trying to keep out of my mind until much later.”
While he may have finished his Broadway performances in “Hamilton” in early July, the stage show remains very much on the front burner as the musical expands — first to Chicago, in a production that opens Oct. 19; then on a national tour that kicks off with long stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles next year; then London in the second half of 2017.
There are no plans to have him return to the role that made him a star, and “Poppins” makes him unavailable for much of next year, when “Hamilton” hits San Francisco and L.A. But don’t rule out seeing him in the part sometime in the future; he has joked that he hopes to play Hamilton when he’s a senior citizen. You couldn’t blame the guy if he did — after all, it’s his legacy.
The subject of a legacy, in fact, comes up regularly in conversation with Miranda. The idea recurs not only for the lead character in “Hamilton” — “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” as the final song puts it — but for the writer/actor himself.
“I don’t think of a legacy in a high-falutin sense, but more in the sense of, if I have a good idea and I don’t live to see it out, then there it goes. That’s it,” he says. “And I had an early sense of mortality — I think that comes with growing up in New York City. So getting as much stuff done before you’re dead is a huge motivating factor for me. I’ve always approached my life and my work thinking, ‘How much can I get away with doing before I go?’”
Now that “Hamilton” has launched him into the pop culture firmament, Miranda’s idea of his legacy also encompasses social and political changes.
“I try to only lend my megaphone when I feel like it can actually lead to action,” he says.
For instance, he’s using his “Hamilton” popularity — and the role he’s played in helping get young people interested in American history and politics — to encourage voter turnout in November through a series of PSAs (two in English, one in Spanish) backed by the “Hamilton” production and 5000 Broadway Prods.
“I support Hillary, but my focus really is on getting out the vote,” he says. “People who support my candidate are gonna come out. People who do not support my candidate are gonna come out. But the more people vote, the more I think we all feel OK as a nation about who wins.”
On a separate issue, he wrote an op-ed in support of a bill to illegalize the use of “ticket bots” by third-party brokers.
Ticket bots are what helped brokers instantly snap up ultra-hot “Hamilton” tickets and jack up the prices to publicity-magnet heights.
“It f–ks up the game when one person can buy 500 tickets while we’re still typing in our fucking Captcha code,” he says, with a vehemence that points to his discomfort around the high cost of theater tickets in general, and “Hamilton” tickets in particular.
Managing skyrocketing ticket prices has been just one of the challenges that comes with stratospheric success. For Miranda, the hardest part was the frenzy toward the end of his Broadway run, when the huge crowds outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre raised serious safety concerns.
“I started to get very nervous about approaching the theater and leaving the theater,” he says. “It got to the point where I couldn’t sign at the stage door, even though I love signing at the stage door. That was painful. The secret exits in and out of the theater got to be very tough.”
Despite that experience, New York will always be home. “I love New York like you love your grandparents,” he says. “If you grow up in New York City and you’re paying attention, you have a better spidey sense than anyone else. It prepares you well for the rest of the world. You learn to listen to the hair on the back of your neck.”
He touches the back of his freshly shorn neck now, reminding himself that he’s on the other side of that frenzy.
“I’m someone who really believes fame is what you make of it,” he says. “I want to wear it lightly.”