Lin- Manuel Miranda: The Latino Shakespeare
“Lights up on Washington Heights, up at the break of day…”
This was the opening line Lin-Manuel Miranda rapped when I first watched In the Heights with my high school classmates in 2008. The set of the bodega, the main clave of salsa playing in the score, and Lin-Manuel Miranda throwing his verses to his audience captivated me. I knew this was not going to be like most broadway productions. Something groundbreaking was happening in the Richard Rogers Theater, and little did I know this man would become the lyrical genius we now recognize today.
Lin- Manuel Miranda was born and raised in Washington Heights. The Puerto Rican playwright and actor graduated in 2002 from Wesleyan University. It was there that his passion for theater flourished. Miranda wrote, performed, and acted in several plays at Wesleyan. During his sophomore year, he began to write In the Heights. Before In the Heights took off, Miranda had composed songs on Broadway for Bring It On: The Musical, Working, and the Spanish translation of West Side Story. He also made various television appearances, audiobook recordings, and co-founded the hip hop improv group “Freestyle Love Supreme”.
In 2008, In the Heights opened in Broadway after its success off-Broadway. It tells the story of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans co-existing in Washington Heights going through family and community struggles. Miranda played one of the protagonists, a Dominican bodega owner named Usnavi. Fusing the genres of hip hop, pop, R&B, and salsa, the musical embraced the Latino culture through unforgettable characters and songs. In the Heights won four Tony Awards, a Grammy Award, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. In the Heights is currently being made into a film with Miranda and Jay-Z as producers.
The Richard Rogers Theater then became the home of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s next Broadway hit Hamilton, which opened in 2015. Miranda took on the lead role of Alexander Hamilton. He had In the Heights alumnus Christopher Jackson play George Washington. Hamilton rapidly gained popularity as the musical of the century. The founding father’s story was told through the genres of hip hop and R&B. It also gained support in being one of the few Broadways shows with the entire cast being people of color. Hamilton won 11 Tony Awards and a Grammy Award for the soundtrack. Miranda remixed the soundtrack with The Tonight Show band The Roots and a few hip hop legends to record The Hamilton Mixtape. He also became the first Latino host on Saturday Night Live to do a full skit in Spanish.
With his success in Broadway, Disney joined forces with Lin-Manuel Miranda so he can compose some of the songs for their new animated film Moana. Moana is the daughter of a village chief who needs to save her island from environmental destruction. Miranda did extensive research in order to bring the Polynesian culture to the soundtrack. He even loaned his vocal talent to the film alongside Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho. “How Far I’ll Go”, which was composed by Miranda, was nominated for an Oscar in the category for Best Original Song in a film.
The success of In the Heights, Hamilton, and Moana has earned Lin-Manuel Miranda the nickname of “the Latino Shakespeare”. He embraces a variety of cultures through his lyrics, especially his Latino culture. Hamilton became a beacon of hope for many immigrant families, especially during a time where our current president lacks the respect needed to solve the immigration reform. Miranda’s lyrics are also used as slogans for protesters’ posters. Famous lines include “Rise Up,” “Immigrants, We Get The Job Done,” “History Has Its Eyes On You,” and “I Am Not Throwing Away My Shot.”
Last year during the Tony Awards, Lin-Manuel Miranda transformed his acceptance speech as a call to action in the wake of the Orlando Pulse shooting on June 12, 2016. The LGBTQ+ and Puerto Rican communities were deeply impacted in the Orlando shooting. Miranda emphasized the same three words, eight times; “Love is love.” Those three words became the peace phrase of Pulse Nightclub. Miranda later recorded Love Makes The World Go Round with Jennifer Lopez in honor of the 49 victims.
Lin- Manuel Miranda has more projects up his sleeve. He is set to star in Mary Poppins Returns alongside Emily Blunt. Disney will use his composing skills again for the live action version of The Little Mermaid. Hamilton performances are opening up in different cities and he is advocating for Puerto Rico to have a better education system that supports the performing arts. His lyrics and verses bring cultures together in the creative art of improv. One thing is clear; he is not throwing away his shot.