Perhaps not surprisingly, that show is Hamilton, which opened to once-in-a-generation raves Aug. 6. In a Q&A interview, creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda discusses a lot of issues, including the following.
Influences on Hamilton: I always had an eye toward the stage for the story of Hamilton's life, but I began with the idea of a concept album, the way Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar were albums before they were musicals. And I built this score by dream casting my favorite artists. I always imagined George Washington as a mix between Common and John Legend (a pretty good description of Christopher Jackson, actually, who plays our first president); Hercules Mulligan was Busta Rhymes; and Hamilton was modeled after my favorite polysyllabic rhyming heroes, Rakim, Big Pun and Eminem. In Hamilton, we're telling the stories of old, dead white men but we're using actors of color, and that makes the story more immediate and more accessible to a contemporary audience.
Autobiographical Elements in His Musicals: Hamilton is more autobiographical than Heights for me — not in the sense that I feel like I'm Hamilton, but in terms of how I feel about life and our country. My feelings about what this country is and can be are all in this show. When Eliza Hamilton sings, "Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now," that's true. I say that to myself every day. But I also laugh when Aaron Burr is shaking hands and saying, "Talk less. Smile more. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for," because that's not left or right, that's most contemporary politicians. And we recognize him as, "Hey, that guy's from our era."
Politics: It would be fun to have Donald Trump see the show. I'd be interested to see his reactions to the fact that one of our greatest commanders of the Revolutionary War and the creator of the financial system that allowed his father to get rich and allowed him to play with his father's money were both immigrants. …. We've had characters like Trump in American politics forever, characters who trade on xenophobia….The fights we're having right now politically are the same fights we've been having since six months after we became a country: states rights versus national rights, foreign intervention versus how we treat our own people and the rights we have. The original sin of slavery and its repercussions; the original sins of, "Oh shit, we said everyone could have guns and now everyone has guns" — that's all still here and we're going to be reckoning with it all as long as we're a country. It's MSNBC and Fox News instead of Hamilton and Jefferson, and the polarities have flipped several times, but we're always going to be having these struggles.
Movie of Hamilton: I have been amazed at the filmmakers who have expressed interest in adapting Hamilton. I would insist that the movie be exactly the same in terms of diversity. That conversation's a ways off: It's not happening anytime soon. What I learned from my go-round with In the Heights is that it's tough to make a movie. In Hollywood, even the people in charge have people in charge…. What I appreciate about the theater business is that when I get in the room to talk about the content of the show with my producers and investors, I sit down with Oskar Eustis, who is the artistic director of The Public Theater; producer Jeffrey Seller, who brought Rent and Avenue Q to Broadway and co-produced In the Heights; and Tommy Kail, our director. Those are the people who make decisions and give me notes. Groundbreaking is what they do, so I never got a note saying, "Can they rap less?" or a visit from a cartoon cigar-chomping executive saying, "There's not a tune you can hum!”
Movie of In the Heights: A lot of the reason the Universal version of Heights went away is that they were afraid they didn't have a big enough Latino star to bankroll this movie. The people I dealt with at the studio who wanted to make this movie were very passionate about it…. We were acquired by Universal the same year Mamma Mia! happened. That was a big honking movie musical, and so Heights was pitched as a big honking movie musical. Two years later, it went into turnaround. My experience with the studio was: "We're going to make a big honking musical. Oh, we can't afford that musical. Goodbye." The world has changed since then. You're seeing the power of the Latino dollar in the marketplace more than ever, and now we're aiming for a scrappy $15 million movie of Heights that is more in keeping with the spirit of the show. There's a new screenplay…. I was disappointed when In the Heights went into turnaround, but I was already pregnant with my next idea.