“I know what it’s like to be a struggling songwriter”
“When it comes to legacy, one of the main messages in Hamilton is: you don’t have a say,” says Lin-Manuel Miranda. “All you have to do is do what you do, and the world will do what it does with it. “
The composer, who joins us as Tick, Tick… Boom !, his debut as a feature film director, is hitting theaters and on Netflix, has had the opportunity to reflect on this lesson over the years. last six years. No one else in his field has achieved this degree of fame so quickly. Stephen Sondheim may still be the undisputed dean of musical theater, but he’s never delivered a smash to himself – his West Side Story collaboration is another issue – compared to Miranda’s Hamilton. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s journey has taken some giant leaps. Neither Rodgers nor Hammerstein were ever exactly celebrities.
Miranda had already had significant success with In the Heights when Hamilton, a hip-hop-infused study of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, hit Broadway in 2015. But that was something else. The move to the Richard Rodgers Theater on the Great White Way caused a stir. He broke records at the Tony Awards with 16 nominations. He won a Pulitzer Prize. The actors performed at the White House. No distribution album had debuted so high on the Billboard charts since 1963. The success of the musical led the Secretary of the Treasury to rescind his plan to take Hamilton off the $ 10 bill. Hamilton was thus confirmed as a key cultural text of Obama’s later years.
Suddenly, Miranda had to face questions about what he had done to the musical. In the years since Hamilton’s debut, its playful rap school steeped in eclectic melodies has spread through interwoven media: animated movies, mainstream pop, crowd-pleasing Netflix. The series advocated for the color blind cast everywhere. But it’s on Broadway and the West End that the influence will really be felt. There hasn’t been such a busy game changer since Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell (whatever you think of those shows).
Miranda takes us back to the Tick, Tick… Jonathan Larson’s Boom! Originally a cult hit off Broadway in the early 1990s, the show details the late songwriter‘s early experiences on the slow road to (sadly) posthumous success with the downtown hit of Boho Rent.
Hamilton, who called on people of many races to play the snow-white builders of the US constitution, was pushed and polled for signs of political deviance.
“I can tell you all the good things about Hamilton were inspired by seeing Jonathan Larson’s Rent on my 17th birthday,” says Miranda. “I saw a homemade musical set in New York. I have seen the most diverse cast I have ever seen on Broadway. I saw something like it was now. It was just exciting now. You have to remember that at 17, A Chorus Line is a period piece, West Side Story is a period piece. It was the first truly contemporary musical that I can remember seeing, and it was the first musical that I could see that made me feel like I could write a musical. It sent me to pursue a career in this direction.
Tic, Tic… Boom! features an eccentric performance by Bradley Whitford as a supporting Sondheim. It seems the songwriter and lyricist, already a grizzled veteran by the time Larson emerged, was there to offer support to the young man as the rest of New York City provided only a cold shoulder.
“There’s a way we’re all links in the chain,” says Miranda. “I was inspired to start writing by Jonathan Larson. Jonathan Larson was generously mentored by Stephen Sondheim, who has mentored countless generations of writers, and it felt right to put him in this movie. And I think he did because [lyricist] Oscar Hammerstein let him into his house when he was 10 and was looking to get out of his mother’s house. He gave her a masterclass in theater writing and storytelling. So, you know, it all goes back to Oscar. “
Miranda’s journey to triumph has parallels with Larson’s early struggles. Born in New York, he is the son of Luz Towns-Miranda, a psychologist, and Luis Miranda jnr, a prominent Democratic Party consultant. Both parents are from Puerto Rico. Raised in upper Manhattan, not far from Washington Heights, the neighborhood that inspired In the Heights, Miranda began performing and writing musicals while still at Hunter College High School. He wrote the first version of Into the Heights in 1999, when he was only 19 years old. This show premiered on Broadway in 2007 and then hit the bigger stage a year later. So it looks like he spent a few years having fun in New York City in bohemian misery. I guess the city had changed since Larson’s experiences in 1990. It was at the height of the AIDS crisis. Pieces of downtown Manhattan had not yet been gentrified.
“I come from an experience in New York in 1990. But I was 10 years old,” he says. “I remember playing in the anterooms of funeral homes while my mother went to the funerals of friends that she and my father lost to the AIDS virus. I remember going through this when I was a kid. One of my sixth grade teachers taught us AIDS education in 1992 – when it was still a mystery to many people and certainly not taught to children. I realized in hindsight how amazing it was.
This tragedy is in there. But the film is also imbued with the romance of the struggling artist. Jonathan’s life, for all its drawbacks, seems more appealing than that of his best friend as a publicity manager. Is this how Lin remembers it?
“One of the reasons I wanted to make this movie is that I know what it’s like to be a struggling songwriter,” he says. “In my twenties, I didn’t work in a restaurant. I worked as a teacher – and as a substitute teacher in my old high school. I danced to the bar mitzvahs. I sang back-up in children’s choirs. I did the jobs that required the least amount of time, in order to have as much time as possible to write. And I shared this with Jonathan.
He didn’t fully grasp the connections until the movie was over.
Earlier this year, he apologized when the film In the Heights was reprimanded for not choosing enough dark-skinned Afro-Latino actors.
“The first person I screened this for was one of my best friends, Quiara [Alegría Hudes], who wrote In the Heights with me, ”he says. “She came to my apartment to watch the rough cut, and as soon as they went to Jonathan’s room, she turned to me and said, ‘Lin, this is your room. It’s your futon on the floor when you were 25. ‘ And I burst into tears and I said, ‘Oh my God, this will be so personal.’ But I didn’t really realize how personal it was until someone who knew me said, “This is your room, man.”
So when did this fight end? We know success after Hamilton. He appeared as a variant of Mary Poppins’ Dick van Dyke character in Mary Poppins Returns. He’s written songs for Disney animations like Next Week’s Moana and Encanto. He appears as Lee Scoresby in the continuing television adaptation of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. So, yes, the world opened up for him when Hamilton struck. But he had rejected the darkness a few years before. After all, In the Heights won the Tony for Best Musical. When did he know he had escaped his “other job” years?
“It was when In the Heights started playing on Broadway,” he says. “And I was still living all across town. I lived at the last stop on the train. I remember the first time I didn’t take the train. I hailed a cab, and didn’t have to do any math to see if I could afford that cab ride downtown. Because it’s, like, $ 25. It was my first guilt-free cab ride. I thought: oh, it’s gonna be okay. I no longer have to figure out how this deal fits into my cable bill and into my utilities. And it was a wonderful time – my first unconscious taxi ride downtown. Attractive!”
The considerably greater notoriety he gained when Hamilton struck had its downsides. Fame has always sent its beneficiaries – or victims – along a sinusoidal wave of cheers and disparagement, but these peaks and troughs are more pronounced in the age of social media and instant online screeds. Her show, which called on people of many races to play the snow-white framers of the US constitution, was pushed and polled for signs of political deviance. A prominent scholar, unimpressed by the absence of enslaved characters, wrote an essay titled “The Race-Conscious Cast and Erasure of the Black Past in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.” Ishmael Reed, a prominent black writer, went so far as to stage an unimpressed play called The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.
There were criticisms of his support for a bill to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt following Hurricane Maria. Earlier this year, he apologized when the film In the Heights was reprimanded for not choosing enough dark-skinned Afro-Latino actors. These are problems he did not have when he still had to “do the math” before taking a taxi.
Still, it looks like he’s here to stay. With a barn assault performance by Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom! looks like it should be included in the Oscar considerations. The brightly colored Encanto, carried by its sparkling songs, is sure to be a hit. Then there is the musical theater. He is still in possession of the ball. The song and dance community is still watching.
“And what can we do when we have the ball?” ” he says. “I don’t know what the new generations will do with the ball. But I’m glad I even had the ball for a minute.
Tic, Tic… Boom! is streaming on Netflix from November 19th