And The Award To Most Gangster Founding Father Goes To…
Word, so thespian Lin-Manuel Miranda is debuting excerpts from his “The Hamilton Mixtape” which is his series of songs based upon the life our most Tupacesque founding father Alexander Hamilton. Another example of how much hip hop has permeated our culture and think this is a positive example.
“WHY hasn’t anyone done a hip-hop version of Alexander Hamilton’s life?” Lin-Manuel Miranda wondered aloud recently. ”It’s a hip-hop story. It’s Tupac.”
Sure, both men’s lives were marked by boastfulness, torrid sexual exploits and gun duels. But it takes a cultural omnivore like Mr. Miranda, the Tony-winning creator of “In the Heights,” probably the most successful merging of Broadway and rap to date, to bring them together.
On Wednesday excerpts from “The Hamilton Mixtape,” Mr. Miranda’s hip-hop song cycle based on the life of the country’s first Secretary of the Treasury, will open the latest edition of Lincoln Center’s annual American Songbook series. It will be Mr. Miranda’s most high-profile stage performance since he returned to Broadway last January for the closing weeks of “In the Heights.” (The show won four Tony Awards in 2008, including best musical and best score for Mr. Miranda.)
Since then Mr. Miranda — composer and lyricist, proud son of the Inwood section of Manhattan, American history buff — has been at work on projects that take him pretty far from the old neighborhood, work that he chronicles religiously on Twitter and YouTube.
“Twitter is really the worst possible thing for performers,” he said with a laugh. ”It’s an audience whenever you want. None of us got enough hugs.”
Over coffee at a cafe near his home in Inwood Mr. Miranda, 31, talked about the early American polity, getting advice from Stephen Sondheim and other subjects that are trending in his world.
RAPPING HAMILTON Mr. Miranda said his interest in Hamilton was sparked when he wrote a paper in high school about the 1804 duel between Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr. The flame reignited when he devoured a copy of Ron Chernow’s acclaimed 2004 biography of Hamilton on a vacation to Mexico a few years ago.
“As I’m reading the book it was one of those rare experiences where I was also picturing it,” he said. ”The book is incredible. It makes Hamilton’s life seem like Dickens. It out-Dickens Dickens, the improbability of where this guy started and where he got.”
“Alexander Hamilton,” he explained, “was someone who on the strength of his words and ideas pulled himself from unbelievably humble circumstances to the top of the nation. Then he sort of destroyed that good will as he continued to fight and continued to believe he was the smartest guy in the room. He was so earnest and so honest that games of political tact that his contemporaries played better, like Jefferson and Burr, he couldn’t play them.”
“Mixtape” has echoes of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” the emo-infused Broadway musical by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman about a controversial American political figure. But Mr. Miranda said he envisions his piece less as a stage show and more as a rap concept album that explores, among other things, battles with guns and with words, weapons of choice for both, he noted, Hamilton and hip-hop artists.
With Hamilton, though, “it’s not about ‘I’m good, you’re not,’ like most rap battles are, but about what is this nation going to be, and how are we going to be one nation.”
“The Hamilton Mixtape” has been a work in progress for several years; Mr. Miranda performed an earlier version at a White House evening of music and poetry in 2009, but it will be more fleshed out at the Lincoln Center event, which will include Karen Olivo, Gavin Creel and other performers.
The deal was sealed, he said, when he was offered the date: Jan. 11, Hamilton’s birthday, in either 1755 or 1757, depending on the historian.
PERFORMING SONDHEIM Next month Mr. Miranda again takes the stage, this time in the Encores! revival of the Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical “Merrily We Roll Along” — the first time since college that’s he’s starring in someone else’s show. “Merrily” tells the story of a young songwriting duo, to be played by Mr. Miranda and Colin Donnell, whose friendship is tested with the passing of time. “I’m excited by the fact that it’s about a songwriting team, that it’s about this field in which I now have a little experience,” Mr. Miranda said.
The musical comedy was one of Mr. Sondheim’s biggest flops, lasting only 68 performances on Broadway in 1981, but it has spawned several standards. Mr. Miranda came to know the show from the original-cast recording and only saw it for the first time in a recent production mounted by Hunter College High School, his alma mater.
“To see that show happen on my high school stage, seeing those kids sing ‘Our Time,’ I had to be carried out of the theater,” he said.
As with his Songbook performance date, the timing of “Merrily” is not lost on Mr. Miranda, who has been trying to build on his up-from-nowhere success of “In the Heights.”
“I’m at the right age to do it, and with this show that matters,” he said. ”I’m still connected to the idealism of the show, but I also understand the emotional kishkes.”
He paused before adding: ”Interview me again in 10 years, and I’m jaded and bitter and sad. But right now I’m right in the middle spot.”
AND MORE (LISTEN UP, PAT KIERNAN) A film adaptation of “In the Heights,” which fell apart, is back under discussion, Mr. Miranda said. But a Broadway follow-up doesn’t seem to be in his immediate future.
He and the composer Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”), along with the lyricist Amanda Green, wrote the score for “Bring It On: The Musical,” an adaptation of the 2000 movie about rival cheerleading squads. The show received mixed reviews in Los Angeles (Charles Isherwood called it “enjoyable but trivial” in The New York Times) and is touring the country. Mr. Miranda said there were no plans yet to bring it to Broadway.
In the meantime he is teaming up with Quiara Alegría Hudes, the “In the Heights” book writer, on a musical adaptation of Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel “My Name Is Asher Lev,” about a young Hasidic Jew in New York City who dreams of life as an artist.
“It was my favorite book growing up,” Mr. Miranda said. “I’ve reread it countless times, and I finally obtained the rights last year. In a lot of ways that book speaks profoundly about what it is to be an artist and to feel a responsibility to your culture and your people.”
But Mr. Miranda’s face really sparkled when he talked about yet another project that’s still just a dream: a musical about the 24-hour news channel NY1.
“Even if it’s just one musical number with Aaron Tveit as Pat Kiernan,” he said, referring to the “Next to Normal” star and one of the channel’s news anchors. ”Something about that world appeals to me because it’s so New York. Pat reads me the newspaper every morning, and I really appreciate that.”
Among his unofficial advisers is Mr. Sondheim, or “Steve,” as Mr. Miranda calls him.
“I send him stuff as I write it,” he said. “The thing he says — and he’s right — is variety, variety, variety.”
That’s a lesson he seems to be learning well.