Lin Manuel-Miranda: The Man Whose Face Would Appear In Your Mom’s Refrigerator

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

Caroline Albacete '17 and Isabella Very '17, Assistant Editor and Staff Writer

     Who is Lin Manuel-Miranda? If you have even an inkling of what’s going on in the world of musical theatre, the name might sound familiar. If you’re the parent of an AP U.S. History student, the name is most likely too familiar – and associated with raving and praise. So who is he? Well, as Chad Danforth put it in High School Musical, he’s the guy who sang in some musical and eventually ended up in your mom’s refrigerator.

     Lin Manuel-Miranda grew up in New York City as the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, a fact that heavily influenced the musicals he went on to create and star in. He composed and wrote the lyrics for his first epic musical while attending Wesleyan College. That musical eventually became the Broadway hit, In the Heights, which is the story of a Hispanic neighborhood in NYC, based in part on the neighborhood in which he grew up. The show opened on Broadway in 2008, with Miranda starring as the main character, Usnavi. It won multiple awards, including four Tonys and a Grammy. In the Heights served as a starting point for Miranda’s brilliant career, but the reason most high school students will be singing him praise today can be summed up in one word: Hamilton.

     While on his first break from starring in In the Heights, Miranda picked up a biography of Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow to read on his vacation. By the end of the second chapter, Miranda was on the internet, convinced there was already a musical about the historic scholar, lawyer, writer, and founding father. Miranda drew a direct line from Hamilton writing his way out of squalor in St. Croix, his birthplace, to the rappers he had grown up listening to and was astounded that nobody had set the story to music.

     In 2008, he began what was then called the Alexander Hamilton Mixtape, an experimental album he intended to write based of off Hamilton’s life. At that point, he had only written what is now the opening number of the musical, “Alexander Hamilton.” Miranda, having been asked to perform music from smash-hit In the Heights at the White House for President Obama and his family, finished with an explanation and performance of the future opening number. He calls this performance a “microcosm of his Hamilton experience.” The video, which has gone viral, opens with Miranda saying that he is working on a rap project surrounding someone who he believes embodies the musical genre: Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The audience lets out a collective laugh, but by the end of his performance, they are entranced by the story, just like he had been while reading Chernow’s book.

Miranda spent 2009 writing the show’s anthem, “My Shot,” which describes the scene where Hamilton first blows everyone away with the simple “strength of his oratory.” He started by researching Hamilton’s person and mind. Having realized Hamilton’s genius, Miranda set to work writing the song. He spent the entire year crafting each phrase “to be the highlight of someone else’s song.”

The next five years would be spent writing more songs and making more decisions about the production itself. Just one of these decisions was Miranda’s unique method of assigning musical characters within the context of the show. He took hip-hop and rap to be the language of the founding fathers and began to work around that. Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy Schuyler, wealthy and independent, are written as a Destiny’s Child-esque group, singing their power ballad, “The Schuyler Sisters.” For audience members who are not as taken with rap as Miranda is, King George sings three comedic Brit-pop show-stoppers and Thomas Jefferson, who missed most of the Revolution, but also anticipated it with the Declaration of Independence, sings and speaks in jazz-inspired, proto-rap rhythms.

     The finished product of six years of Miranda’s hard work finally opened at New York’s Public Theater in February 2015 and at the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway six months later. Despite his unprecedented success on Broadway with such an unorthodox production, Miranda is continuously humbled by his experience playing Alexander Hamilton, who by Miranda’s age was Treasury Secretary, building a country, and constructing our entire financial system from scratch. And high school students everywhere who are studying American history are humbled by the extremely historically accurate and engaging studying device Miranda has created. Hamilton has revolutionized the way high school students study American history, and Miranda has sparked an unprecedented interest in the Founding Fathers.

     Lin Manuel-Miranda is a terrific composer, lyricist, and actor. The “worlds he keeps creating in his mind” have continually entranced and amazed audienceshistory buffs, musical theatre geeks, and anyone interested in seeing America’s diversity accurately represented. He has definitely not “thrown away his shot”, but rather seized his chance to leave a lasting legacy.