How "Hamilton" Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda Capitalized on His Shot
When Lin-Manuel Miranda performed at the White House Poetry Jam in 2009, he was a relatively unknown artist. Yes, he’d made a name for himself in New York theater circles, winning a Tony Award for his ode-to-home musical, “In the Heights.”
But then the video of his White House performance — a song about founding father Alexander Hamilton — went viral. A cultural phenomenon followed.
In 2015, his musical “Hamilton” opened on Broadway. It has made hundreds of millions of dollars and counting, and Miranda has become a star that transcends theater.
Here are some delightfully surprising details about the life of the rambunctious, do-it-all artist.
He’s a New Yorker, Born and Bred
“I’m built for New York,” he recently tweeted. “I love New York.”
Born in 1980, Lin-Manuel Miranda grew up on Payson Avenue in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. He’s described living in his own imagination, creating universes in his head as a child. He attended elementary school and high school on the Upper East Side.
After his first Tony Award, he bought a home not too far from his parents. That 1,200-square-foot place went up for sale this year. List price: $949,000.
He Ran a Slushie Machine in Puerto Rico During His Childhood Summers
Miranda’s parents never severed ties with their birthplace, Puerto Rico. They sent their son to spend summers there with his grandparents.
The awkward American with the funny Spanish accent had trouble making friends with local kids. So he would hang out with his grandparents and their friends, the Abuelas. Over time, those summers bonded him to his Puerto Rican heritage and inspired his craft.
Shades of the Abuelas and other colorful characters from the island frequently make appearances in Miranda’s work.
The First Musical He Saw Was "Les Misérables"
Miranda recalls watching “Les Misérables” with his parents and taking note of how the song “Bring Him Home” would bring his mom to tears. It was the first time he understood the effect music could have on a person, and it inspired him to do the same.
In “The Phantom of the Opera,” another one of his first musical experiences, he remembers profoundly connecting with the main character — someone desperately trying to fit in while winning over the love of his life.
He would later call on that inner Phantom as he successfully courted his own wife despite, by his own admission, having zero game.
He Was Once a Broke Substitute Teacher
In one of his Tony acceptance speeches, Miranda said of his wife, “Vanessa who still leaves me breathless, thanks for loving me when I was broke and making breakfast.”
Miranda met his wife, Vanessa Nadal, a lawyer and scientist, in high school. But he only reconnected in his twenties when he was still a struggling actor and performer. At the time, in order to make ends meet, he taught at a high school in his old neighborhood.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree
To look at Miranda’s father, Luis A. Miranda Jr., is to see the Broadway superstar through a time machine.
Before chopping his locks, Miranda shared the same slick flowing hair, jet black, though, to the senior one’s silver fox. Both adore musicals. During a visit to Austria, Miranda’s father hired a film crew to capture his family reenacting scenes from “The Sound of Music.”
When Miranda abandoned his stable teaching job to devote his time to writing, his father approved. As a young man, his father did the same thing. The senior Miranda left a management job in Puerto Rico to immigrate to New York despite barely speaking English.
His First Musical Earned 13 Tony Award Nominations
“In the Heights,” which won four Tonys, was inspired both by the New York streets Miranda called home and the characters he met during his summers in Puerto Rico.
The 2008 musical revolves around a neighborhood in Washington Heights, in upper Manhattan, and it drips with the everyday drama of its residents’ personal lives.
When 23-year-old Miranda first shopped the musical, a big-deal Broadway producer offered to finance the production — if he would change the storyline of one of the main characters, Nina Rosario. Nina’s the first in her family to go to college, but comes back to the neighborhood as a failure.
The producer told Miranda that dropping out of college wasn’t a plot line he felt invested in. Thomas Kail, his director, convinced Miranda to stick to his story. They walked away from the deal and made the musical they wanted, five years later.
The show ran on Broadway until 2011, recouping its initial $10 million dollar investment in 10 months. Its gross earnings to date: more than $100 million.
He Was Part of a Hip Hop Improv Group
An early glimpse into the brain that would produce “Hamilton” came during Miranda’s live shows with his hip hop improv group, Freestyle Love Supreme.
Co-founded by Miranda and other cast members of “In The Heights,” the five guys on stage take spontaneous cues from the audience and turn random words into rapid rhyme routines.
For one of Miranda’s pieces, he rapped about Neil Patrick Harris.
You Could’ve Seen “Hamilton” for Under $50
Unless you’re one of the lucky ones to win the daily lottery for cheap tickets to one of the “Hamilton” productions, you had to have been there from day one to get inexpensive seats.
Hamilton opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in 2015, before the hype and mayhem turned it into the hottest ticket in New York City. It was extended twice, quickly gathering steam in both buzz and acclaim.
Even its Off-Broadway engagement completely sold out. It took only six months for “Hamilton” to make the quick hop, skip and jump to the Broadway spotlight.
Miranda’s Last “Hamilton” Performance Was a Hot Ticket
Miranda’s last performance as Hamilton was July 9, 2016. To nobody’s surprise, it sold out, with many tickets going for thousands of dollars. Senator John Kerry, Spike Lee and Jennifer Lopez were among those in attendance.
Miranda will reprise his role for the first three weeks of a “Hamilton” production in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in January 2019.
There Are 23,000 Words in “Hamilton”
Miranda’s take on the American icon may be contemporary in music but he does not mince on historical details. Rapid-fire rhymes riddle almost every one of the 46 songs in “Hamilton.”
Miranda admits that he messes up lines on a regular basis, forcing him to gobble words just to make it through the song.
Miranda’s Most Prestigious Paycheck Is Worth Just $10,000
That’s the amount honorees get when awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
“Hamilton” was awarded the prestigious honor in 2016, joining “Rent,” “South Pacific” and “A Chorus Line” as one of only nine musicals to ever win in the category of Drama.
Disney Plays a Major Role in Miranda’s Life
Miranda named his son Sebastian, influenced by his love of “The Little Mermaid” and one of its beloved characters, the talking crab.
In 2014, Miranda was hired as one of the main songwriters for the coming-of-age tale, “Moana.” His distinct frenetic energy can easily be felt in the song “You’re Welcome,” sung by Dwayne Johnson. The movie grossed more than $600 million worldwide.
At the end of 2018, see Miranda in the role of Jack in a modern reboot of “Mary Poppins,” alongside Emily Blunt. He’s also set to voice scientist duck Gizmodo Duck in the Emmy-winning series “DuckTales,” airing on the Disney Channel.
He’s an EGOT
The highly coveted moniker is the holy grail for artists.
Miranda hasn’t just lined up statues from every major award show; he’s won multiple times. He has an Emmy, three Grammys, an Oscar and three Tonys. For the uninitiated, winning each of those awards results in an EGOT.
He’s Famous for Rapping Emotional Acceptance Speeches
“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside” is perhaps one of the most famous lines in any one of Miranda’s heartfelt speeches, which are often delivered in rhyme, rap, poetry or prose.
He delivered the sonnet during the 2016 Tony Awards, just hours after one of America’s deadliest shootings, at a nightclub in Orlando. He was accepting the award for “Hamilton” for Best Original Score.
In 2008, he accepted in rap, rhyming, “Look Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat, where there never was a hat. It’s a Latin Hat at that,” referring to his groundbreaking musical “In the Heights.”
His pulsating energy had the audience on its feet by the end of the speech.
He’s Politically Active
Miranda hasn’t shied away from lending his celebrity to causes dear to his heart.
He campaigned for Hillary Clinton, even personalizing a “Hamilton” song in honor of the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. He has consistently rallied for Puerto Rico on different issues. He called for forgiving the Caribbean island’s debt, when it went bankrupt in May 2017.
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, he gathered his celebrity friends including Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and Jennifer Lopez, and released the song “Almost Like Praying,” donating all proceeds to a relief fund. In the song, he name checks all 72 towns in the American territory.
This year, he took the stage in Washington, D.C. in support of the Parkland, Florida, students organizing against gun violence. He recorded a song with fellow Broadway star Ben Platt, with proceeds also going to support the cause.