Inspiring Creator of Broadway Smash ‘Hamilton’

In May 2009, composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited to the White House for An Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word, an event designed to celebrate a new generation of poets, playwrights, and musicians. He was expected to perform a number from In the Heights, a popular musical on Broadway at the time that Miranda had written and starred in. But at the last minute, inspiration struck, and he instead decided to debut a new hip hop song about founding father and first U.S. treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, which he had been working on for an album. That performance became the catalyst for Hamilton, a Broadway sensation that has sold out nightly since the beginning of its run nearly a year ago. The show details the life of Hamilton, who was born into poverty in the Caribbean before immigrating to the U.S. through rap and hip hop musical numbers.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who composed and stars in Hamilton, noted in a recent interview with NPR that, while he knew his concept for Hamilton was unconventional for Broadway, it was necessary to think outside the box in order to tell his story. “I understand how ridiculous the elevator pitch is for this show. It sounds improbable. And once you start hearing about Hamilton’s life story, it sort of makes sense. The mode of storytelling makes sense for the subject.” A first generation American whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, Manuel Miranda felt strongly that rap and hip hop were the perfect media to highlight the struggles and triumphs of Hamilton, who arrived in the U.S. a penniless immigrant before he became an integral part of our nation’s history. “That was what grabbed me about it, that this was a guy who used words to get everywhere and do what my favorite hip hop artists do – if not write about their struggles, their lives, then transcend their circumstances by sheer virtuosity.” [See Lin-Manuel Miranda Talks ‘Hamilton’: Once a ‘Ridiculous’ Pitch, Now a Revolution, NPR, by NPR Staff, 09.Apr.2016.]

Miranda’s unlikely idea for a Broadway show has now come full circle, as tickets for Hamilton continue to sell out weeks in advance. Last month, he returned to the White House to perform excerpts from the show, which First Lady Michelle Obama has praised as “the best piece of art in any form that I have ever seen in my life.” And while Miranda is proud that his show has become a commercial success, it is also important to him that Hamilton inspires a new generation of Americans, whether native born or immigrants, to follow their dreams. He regularly visits public schools in the New York City area to give lectures, and helped to secure a $1.5 million dollar grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in order to provide reduced price tickets to Hamilton to more than 20,000 New York City Public School students. Courtney Ferrell, a teacher at Bronx Theater High School where Miranda recently visited, emphasized to The Wall Street Journal how important the message of Hamilton is to her students. “He has changed the culture of the school. His characters are flawed and make mistakes, but they’re driven by wanting to make a mark in the world and make people who love them proud of them, which is something my kids relate to every day.” [See ‘Hamilton’ Tickets for Students and Wisdom from its Creator, by Leslie Brody, The Wall Street Journal, 06.Apr.2016. See also, Broadway’s ‘Hamilton’ Makes its Way into NYC’s High School Curriculum, NPR, nprEd, by Beth Fertig, 14.Apr.2016.]


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