Lin-Manuel Miranda Talks 'Hamilton': Once A 'Ridiculous' Pitch, Now A Revolution When the Broadway musical's creator said the life of Alexander Hamilton embodied hip-hop, people laughed. Now, he's written a book about the national phenomenon with former critic Jeremy McCarter.
NPR logo

Lin-Manuel Miranda Talks 'Hamilton': Once A 'Ridiculous' Pitch, Now A Revolution

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/473503407/473623599" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Lin-Manuel Miranda Talks 'Hamilton': Once A 'Ridiculous' Pitch, Now A Revolution

Lin-Manuel Miranda Talks 'Hamilton': Once A 'Ridiculous' Pitch, Now A Revolution

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/473503407/473623599" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Hamilton," the Broadway musical, is set during a revolution and may have set off a revolution, too. It's the award-winning show that relates the life of a founder of the United States, as the story of a poor orphan boy dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot of the Caribbean in the rhymes and music of hip-hop and pop. Alexander Hamilton, who would be the chief aid to George Washington, a founder, a Federalist and the first security of the Treasury and the man on the $10 bill. It's been called a once-in-a-generation experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "HAMILTON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Washington) I know.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Washington and company) (Singing) Hamilton.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Lafayette) (Singing) Sir, he knows what to do in a trench, ingenuitive and fluent in French, I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Washington and company) (Singing) Hamilton.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Lafayette) (Singing) Sir, you’re going to have to use him eventually. What’s he going to do on the bench? I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Washington and company) (Singing) Hamilton.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Lafayette) (Singing) No one has more resilience or matches my practical, tactical brilliance.

SIMON: The story of the six-year creation of the show is told in the book "Hamilton: The Revolution." We're joined now from Chicago by Jeremy McCarter, one of the book's co-authors and a former drama critic. Thank you very much for being with us.

JEREMY MCCARTER: Glad to be here.

SIMON: And from New York, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer, lyricist and star of "Hamilton." Thank you for being with us.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Mr. Miranda, let me begin with you. Can I bring you back to - I guess it was January 12, 2009 - An Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word at the White House. You were expected to do a number from "In The Heights," the great musical that was still running on Broadway. You decided to switch. Why?

MIRANDA: When the White House calls and says, we'd love for you to perform, we'd love for you to do something from "The Heights" or if you have anything else on the American experience, and you have a hot 16 bars about Alexander Hamilton in your back pocket, my choice was clear. It actually felt like a sign that the thing I had been working on in my spare time, there might be an audience for it.

SIMON: Can I get you to do those first great lines?

MIRANDA: How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

(SOUNDBITE OF AN EVENING OF POETRY, MUSIC AND THE SPOKEN WORD)

MIRANDA: The $10 founding father without a father got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter.

SIMON: At one point you said the life of Hamilton embodied hip-hop and the people there at the White House laughed. I guess they're not laughing now - are they?

MIRANDA: I understand how ridiculous the elevator pitch for this show is. But in a way that video is a microcosm of the reaction the show has gotten. It sounds improbable. And then once you start hearing about Hamilton's life story, it sort of makes sense. The mode of storytelling makes sense to the subject. And that was - that was what grabbed me about it was this was a guy who used words to get everywhere. And what do my favorite hip-hop artists do if not write about their struggles, their lives and then transcend their circumstances by sheer virtuosity?

SIMON: Jeremy McCarter, when you were the theater critic of New York Magazine, I guess you wrote that hip-hop could save musical theater. Boy, that sounds prescient now.

MCCARTER: (Laughter) Thanks, Lin.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: What was your figuring then?

MCCARTER: Well, I'd grown up listening to hip-hop. And I'd grown up, you know, enjoying the theater, much as Lin had. And what I couldn't see anybody doing was the thing that seemed obvious to me - making the connection between these two art forms. I mean, if you think of hip-hop as being, in addition to a form of pop music, a kind of verse storytelling then hip-hop is doing what the great playwrights of the past used to do. I saw a lot of people strike out, not really understand how to make the two work together. Someone named Will Power I thought did a really nice job doing it in a couple of projects. But I was still on the hunt for someone who I thought might see it the way I did the night I went to see "In The Heights."

SIMON: Let me ask you both, the cast of Hamilton is diverse. The founders of the American Revolution were not. How did the company of diverse actors deal with portraying people that they grew to admire but a lot of them were slaveholders?

MIRANDA: I had to deal with it in the writing of the piece, which is, you know, the only way I know how to get inside these characters is through research and empathy. And then there is things that empathy only get you so far when you're participating in a system of brutality and it's a part of your daily life. You know, there's a great quote from Chris in the book where he says, I can't reconcile that. I can't wrap my head around that. I can honor the parts of him that we honor. And, you know, there's a moment in the show that you wouldn't get from the soundtrack, but there's a moment at the end of the show where Eliza says, I speak out against slavery. You would have done so much more. And it's right after the Washington Monument moment. And Washington hangs his head in shame and steps back. And we deal with it in a lot of ways big and small, but it was - it was an open thing and a thing to grapple with because it just was a way of life, a way of life that no one knew how to deal with. And we grappled with it as much as we could and still tell us a story in two hours and 45 minutes in a musical.

SIMON: Let me ask you both, knowing show business as you do, are you in any way concerned that over the next few years there's going to be a spate of shows like Coolidge the musical or Hoover the hip-hop opera.

MCCARTER: No, I talked to Stephen Sondheim about this. Sondheim's one of the people who - not about the Coolidge musical specifically.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yeah. Really, I was that on target - yeah.

MCCARTER: Although a Coolidge musical by Stephen Sondheim would be pretty amazing I think.

MIRANDA: I would get in line for that.

SIMON: Yeah.

MCCARTER: You know, what happens - something like "Hamilton" comes along, it changes the sound of Broadway, lots of people have new ideas because of its success. What is it going to look like for a while? And Sondheim's been around long enough to see, you know, styles come and go and changes happen. And he said something really smart, that the important thing that's going to come out of this is not going to be the copycat shows, the shows that try to take the direct model of this stylistically or in terms of subject. What's exciting about this is that people will see it and feel encouraged to express their own voices more freely. That in a sense, much like Sondheim's shows, it broadens the possibilities of what you can get away with, not to do something like Lin's show in terms of its subject or its style but to do whatever you want. And that to me is one of the most exciting things about this whole crazy phenomenon is to think about all the doors are going to open because of the kids who are coming to see it.

SIMON: I mean, I'll just bet, Mr. Miranda, you've already had people come to you and say something like, Madison, Madison, Adams, Adams.

MIRANDA: I kid you not, I had two historians hand me two different books on the way to the studio today.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: And what do you say, thank you very much?

MIRANDA: I say thank you very much.

SIMON: I'll really look forward to putting this on...

MIRANDA: Because it's - you know it's coming from a place of enthusiasm. It's coming from a place of look what you did.

SIMON: Yeah.

MIRANDA: So I can't help but be touched by it. God I wish I had time to read more. But, yeah, that's where it's coming from, so I always appreciate it.

SIMON: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. They are co-authors of "Hamilton: The Revolution." Thanks so much for being with us.

MIRANDA: Thanks for having us.

MCCARTER: Thank you.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.