When Hamilton's creator speaks, America listens

But Lin-Manuel Miranda says he wants to make movies, not run for office

NEW YORK • Last month, on the day Fox announced the cancellation of cult-hit sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted an all-cap request for it to be renewed.

He wrote: "I ONLY WATCH LIKE 4 THINGS. THIS IS ONE OF THE THINGS."

The next day, NBC swooped in to pick up the show for a sixth season.

These days, when the 38-year-old speaks, the nation listens.

He has become a power player after fathering hit musical Hamilton, about American founding father Alexander Hamilton. It continues to reign on Broadway three years after it debuted.

And now, he invades power centre Washington, with the musical set to take its inaugural bow on June 12 at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts for a 14-week run.

But on this spring day, talking about the life-changing effects of Hamilton in a luxury bus near the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where the musical has logged almost 1,200 performances, the influential Miranda said he is not eyeing political office.

"Please don't make me be in politics," he added.

"I'm asked all the time. And I say: 'Please, no, please, don't make me, please let me write songs.'"

American composer Lin-Manuel Miranda became a power player after creating the hit musical Hamilton, about American founding father Alexander Hamilton. It continues to reign on Broadway three years after it debuted.
American composer Lin-Manuel Miranda became a power player after creating the hit musical Hamilton, about American founding father Alexander Hamilton. It continues to reign on Broadway three years after it debuted. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It is a shame, since he comes across as an impeccable prospect for charming the electorate. He is affable, photogenic, devoted to family and has a huge fan base.

With his ever more aggressive use of the fame he has earned to promote causes he believes in - like the anti-gun March For Our Lives and relief for hurricane-hit Puerto Rico - any political ambitions would not have seemed far-fetched.

As he put it himself: "I'm a private citizen with a big megaphone."

You can readily envision a recording artist or television star marshalling the power of his success as a means of inspiring public action. Think British singer Sting and the rainforest or American media mogul Oprah Winfrey and education for African schoolgirls.

But to build an international following, 1,500 theatregoers at a time, night after night, through a musical? Who has done that?

He has amassed 2.4 million Twitter followers. After Hurricane Maria knocked out essential services in Puerto Rico, he tweeted the appeal of a person whose mother needed dialysis and got the machine to her.

He also happens to have raised US$30 million (S$40.1 million) for the rescue efforts, according to officials at charitable groups.

Miranda had an inkling of his influence early in Hamilton's run at an interview with a reporter who kept asking political questions.

"I remember stopping midway, being like, 'Why do you care about this?' And his answer was, 'Well, the show is, I think, really affecting how people think about things and people are looking to you to do that.'"

When Hamilton touches down in Washington, Miranda will likely look back fondly at an encounter with then United States President Barack Obama and his wife in 2009.

Invited to a poetry slam at the White House, he publicly unveiled the first snippet of the musical, performing the song that would become the show's prologue.

"I can still remember when I first met Lin-Manuel," Mrs Michelle Obama said in a statement about their 2009 introduction, when he revealed he was going to perform a number about Hamilton.

"Barack and I laughed, thinking he was joking. But then he actually got up there and did a rap about Alexander Hamilton - and he absolutely blew us away.

"When we congratulated him afterwards, he told us he was going to do a whole musical about Hamilton.

"Now, a single rap was one thing, but an entire musical? We basically told him, 'Okay, good luck with that', and figured that would be the last we heard of it."

Mrs Obama might not have kept tabs since, but Miranda has also had his finger in other pies outside Hamilton.

For Disney, he has already wrapped up his scenes for the new Mary Poppins sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt as the titular character and him as Jack, a London lamp lighter.

And before he tackles another musical, he is writing "several things for movies first".

"I've always wanted to do only three things in my life. Make up songs, act and make movies," he said. "And I've had a good deal of the first two and I want to use what I've learnt from the first two to do the third. So I'm going to try that for a bit.

"But I have lots of ideas for the next stage piece. It's a question of which one raises its hand.

"And which one raises its hand with the relentlessness with which the ghost of Alexander Hamilton raised his hand. And wouldn't leave me alone."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2018, with the headline 'When Hamilton's creator speaks, America listens'. Print Edition | Subscribe