Friday, July 15, 2016

Lin-Manuel Miranda Puts the Ham in Hamilton

Don’t get me wrong – I love this guy. Aside from being a great talent, Lin-Manuel Miranda has shown multiple times that he’s a gentleman and a scholar. Scholar? Well, Miranda got his inspiration for the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton when he toted along on a family vacation Ron Chernow’s hefty and erudite 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton, founding father of the U.S. financial system. Chernow came on board as an historical consultant to the musical, and he has praised Miranda’s uncanny ability to synthesize complex ideas into catchy hip-hop lyrics. Somehow Miranda has managed to make the tale of our country’s founding so vital and interesting that whole generations of school kids (and their parents) are being turned on to the ins and outs of America’s past. I deeply respect the show’s management for working hard to give youngsters the opportunity to step into history.

Along with writing music, book, and lyrics for the Pulitzer and Tony-winning Hamilton, Miranda of course played the title role. Here’s how he shows his gentlemanly side: this past week, as he stepped down from the Broadway cast, he made it a point of loudly praising his understudy and now replacement, Javier Muñoz. Introducing Muñoz to the press, he emphasized that throughout the show’s evolution the two had created the role together. There aren’t many actors who would be so generous in sharing credit..

I first became aware of Miranda in 2008 when I saw his earlier Tony-winning production, In the Heights. Far less ambitious than Hamilton, it’s a somewhat predictable tale of the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, a place where many colorful ethnicities meet and mingle. I had mixed emotions about the show, despite its lively Latin music. But Miranda (as an amiable narrator-figure named Usnavi) was a rapper’s delight. Then there were the years when he popped up on the Tony Awards broadcast with on-the-spot freestyle salutes to the evening’s victors. Wow!

Like any actor trying to make a living, Miranda could also be seen in modest television roles, on shows like House, Modern Family, and How I Met Your Mother. But the acclaim he’s gotten for Hamilton (which also includes a MacArthur  “Genius” grant) has assured him of a more starry second act. It’s been pointed out of late that he’s a prime contender for the fabled  EGOT designation, which recognizes those legendary few who’ve won all four of the entertainment world’s prime honors: the Emmy (for work in television), the Grammy (given by the recording industry), the Oscar (which acknowledges cinema greats), and the Tony (for Broadway excellence). At the moment Miranda lacks only the naked bald guy. But his future in the movie industry is looking brighter by the moment.

As a writer, he’s already contributed  a song for the cantina scene in the most recent Star Wars.  Soon afterward he was tapped by Disney to write songs for this year’s Polynesian-themed animated feature, Moana. So, given Disney’s long track record in the Best Song Oscar category, a statuette may not be far off. Then there’s his acting career. He’s been signed to cavort opposite Emily Blunt in a musical Mary Poppins sequel, due out in 2018.

Another lovely aspect of Lin-Manuel Miranda is that he’s a true family guy. When he married his sweetheart, Vanessa, in 2010, he prepared a little something to surprise her during the wedding banquet. I’m told it took a month of planning and the secret participation of many friends and family members. Luckily for us, he posted the results on YouTube. What can I say, other than “l’chayim”? (Only in America, right?)  

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