Just over 10 years ago, Lin-Manuel Miranda, 35, was working as a seventh-grade English teacher at his alma mater in Washington Heights, in New York City, the neighborhood where he grew up. On Thursday, Miranda's acclaimed musical "Hamilton," premieres on Broadway after months of rave reviews and previews chock-full of high-profile attendees- including President and Mrs. Obama.
"Hamilton" follows the life of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton, but diverges from any conventional textbook account of the prominent historical figure's life. Miranda's play re-imagines the life story of the first Secretary of the Treasury and the architect of our country's financial system as a hip-hop musical with rap battles, R&B ballads, and philosophical pondering.
Miranda, a native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, is no stranger to critical success. His musical "In the Heights" has been heralded since its Broadway debut in 2009 and earned Miranda a Tony and Grammy award. "Hamilton", however, looks to be a new kind of beast.
As The New York Times' T Magazine says of the play in their recent profile of Miranda, "It is the genius of ‘Hamilton’ to make the link between hip-hop and the world of 18th-century politics seem like the most obvious thing in the world — not a conceit imposed upon the history but the excavation of some essence lurking within it."
MSNBC host Chris Hayes, who has known Miranda since high school, interviewed the playwright during "Hamilton"'s stint at New York's Public Theater. The two had an extensive conversation on the genius of Hamilton, the man, and the extraordinary history that provided the backbone of the play.
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"[Hamilton] is an immigrant who wrote his way into the top of American society, helped create the country, and then wrote himself out of it," said Miranda in the interview with Hayes.
The premiere of Miranda's play certainly marks a significant moment on Broadway. "Hamilton" not only launches with incredibly positive buzz for its bold narrative approach, but for its widely diverse cast of largely black and Latino actors (Hamilton himself is re-imagined as Latino, played by Miranda).
The cast of Miranda's "In the Heights" performs at the 2008 Tony Awards.
Miranda's rise to leading Broadway auteur also represents an important milestone for minority voices in mainstream musical theater. It is not often that such a unique visionary arrives on the scene and commands this level of response.
Though it is only now being introduced to mainstream audiences, "Hamilton" has garnered plenty of notable attention from its time Off-Broadway at the Public Theater last winter and in previews this spring. From top political leaders like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden to celebrities like Paul McCartney, Tom Hanks and Helen Mirren, the show has already seen its share of prominent audience members. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that "Hamilton" surged onto the list of top-earning Broadway shows while still in previews.
President Obama and Jon Stewart discuss "Hamilton" backstage at "The Daily Show."
Among his influences behind the musical, Miranda cites Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton, The West Wing, Grand Theft Auto 5, as well as Biggie Smalls and Big Pun, and Jay Z’s The Blueprint. One thing is for sure: after seeing this show, one will never think of Alexander Hamilton in the same way again.
"Hamilton" premieres August 6th at New York's Richard Rodgers Theater. For more information on the play, visit hamiltonbroadway.com.
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