From the Heights to Hamilton | Lin-Manuel Miranda

Aidan Walsh, Writer/Volunteer

“Yo, the Founding Fathers got bars,” is a sentence I quite literally never thought I would utter in my entire life, and yet I’m so glad I had reason to. The man behind this musical endeavor is, of course, none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda, the driving force behind the 2015 Broadway musical Hamilton. Miranda’s influence in the music sphere is already legendary for his contributions to both stage and silver screen alike, and he continues to be a — for lack of a better, less pun-inspired word — revolutionary leader in the industry.

It’s hard to overstate the pop culture impact Hamilton had at its peak rotation, though it isn’t very hard to see why it blew up the way it did. Try telling anyone about a rap-infused historical musical about the dude on the ten dollar bill and see if they wouldn’t be even the tiniest bit curious. You hear the iconic first seven notes of the lead song, “Alexander Hamilton,” and it’s all over. You’re hooked. All of a sudden a Broadway musical has the mainstream public attention that seemingly had the power to make theater kids cool! Kinda. Sort of. Not really. But pop culture relevant!

However, Hamilton wasn’t Miranda’s first big hit. It wasn’t even his breakthrough project. 2008’s In The Heights, a musical set in the Hispanic/Latinx neighborhood of Washington Heights, is the soundtrack that led me down the rabbit hole. Also headlined by Miranda, the songs range from colorful ensemble cast numbers like the eponymous opening song, to slower, more intimate pieces such as “When the Sun Goes Down,” and even energetic, rap and show tune inspired tracks like “Benny’s Dispatch.” If there’s one thing to say about Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s that he absolutely plays to his strengths as a songwriter and lyricist, and In The Heights is one of the best examples of that. He somehow manages to turn taxi dispatch directions into delightful, snappy verse:

“Okay, we got traffic on the west side

Get off at 79th and take the left side

Of Riverside Drive, and you might slide

West End’s ya best friend if you catch the lights

And don’t take the Deegan

Manny Ramirez is in town this weekend.”

Miranda’s Puerto Rican background and youth in New York City as a second generation immigrant is a clear inspiration for much of his work. Themes of immigration and heritage are prevalent in much of his original work, including and especially Hamilton and In The Heights. Much of this original work has championed a Latin sound in the mainstream, and he continues to encourage this in his future projects. Encanto, the 60th film by Disney’s animation studio, is set to release in November with songs written by Miranda and is set in Colombia.

He truly embraces an everyman persona in terms of sheer entertainment capability. In addition to his credits as a playwright, Miranda is an actor, singer, songwriter, producer and rapper as a part of hip-hop comedy group Freestyle Love Supreme. The fruits of labor are evident too; he’s just an Oscar shy of achieving EGOT status, or having at least one each of Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony awards. All of which would be on top of his Pulitzer Prize for Hamilton.

His missing Academy Award is certainly not for lack of trying however. Miranda’s recent major exploits have been Disney productions, writing music for Moana (2016) and starring as Jack the lamplighter in Mary Poppins Returns (2018), receiving an Academy Award nomination for the former and a Golden Globe nomination for the latter. The music for Moana received critical acclaim, especially its standout single “How Far I’ll Go.” The soundtrack is inspired by traditional South Pacific culture, combined with elements of modern pop and Broadway sound, another successfully bold mix on Miranda’s resume.

This resume is set to expand in the coming years. In addition to Encanto, Miranda is making his directorial debut for Tick, Tick…Boom!, set to release on Netflix later this year with Andrew Garfield headlining. In addition, he has a co-producing credit planned for the 2023 live action remake of The Little Mermaid