Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ Wins 11 Tony Awards

Posted in today in light of the 18th century by Editor on June 15, 2016


From left: Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Christopher Jackson, Leslie Odom, Jr., Jasmine Cephas Jones, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo, and Anthony Ramos. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue (July 2015). Adam Green’s story for Vogue is available here»

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I’m at least a year overdue with this posting, but after Sunday evening’s Tony’s Awards, I feel compelled finally to note Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. I’ve not yet seen it; so my comments can address only the place of the production within the media and popular culture, rather than the musical itself, but for anyone interested in how the eighteenth century continues to matter for the present, Hamilton is difficult to ignore (notes on the cast recording at Genius.com are extraordinary, as noted in April by Shea Stuart for ABO Public). That a Broadway production could save the first U.S. Treasury Secretary’s place on the $10 bill is itself pretty remarkable. Nominated for a record-setting sixteen Tony Awards, it won eleven (second only to the twelve awards that went to The Producers in 2001)—including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Costume Design. A production opens in Chicago in September, followed by a pair of North American tours and a London production.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, July 2015

Lin-Manuel Miranda, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, July 2015

Writing for The New Yorker (9 February 2015), Rebecca Mead recounts the origins of the project. In the spring of 2009, Miranda had been invited to perform at a White House event addressing “the American experience,” with general expectations that he would perform something from the Broadway musical In the Heights.

Miranda had something different in mind. A few months earlier, he and his girlfriend, Vanessa Nadal, who has since become his wife, had been on vacation in Mexico, and while bobbing in the pool on an inflatable lounger he started to read a book that he had bought on impulse: Ron Chernow’s eight-hundred-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda was seized by the story of Hamilton’s early life. Born out of wedlock, raised in poverty in St. Croix, abandoned by his father, and orphaned by his mother as a child, Hamilton transplanted himself as an adolescent to a New York City filled with revolutionary fervor. An eloquent and prolific writer, he was the author of two-thirds of the Federalist Papers; after serving as George Washington’s aide during the Revolutionary War, he became America’s first Treasury Secretary. Later, Hamilton achieved the dubious distinction of being at the center of the nation’s first political sex scandal, after an extramarital affair became public. He never again held office, and before reaching the age of fifty he was dead, killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, the Vice-President, after a personal dispute escalated beyond remediation.

Miranda saw Hamilton’s relentlessness, brilliance, linguistic dexterity, and self-destructive stubbornness through his own idiosyncratic lens. It was, he thought, a hip-hop story, an immigrant’s story. Hamilton reminded him of his father, Luis A. Miranda, Jr., who, as an ambitious youth in provincial Puerto Rico, had graduated from college before turning eighteen, then moved to New York to pursue graduate studies at NYU. Luis Miranda served as a special adviser on Hispanic affairs to Mayor Ed Koch; he then co-founded a political consulting company, the MirRam Group, advising Fernando Ferrer, among others. On summer breaks during high school, Lin-Manuel worked in his father’s office; later, he wrote jingles for the political ads of several MirRam clients, including Eliot Spitzer, in his 2006 gubernatorial bid. Chernow’s description of the contentious election season of 1800—the origin of modern political campaigning—resonated with Miranda’s understanding of the inner workings of politics. And the kinds of debate that Hamilton and his peers had about the purpose of government still took place, on MSNBC and Fox. . .

With another contentious election season raging—and rearing its particularly ugly head in the wake of the devastating news of Sunday’s shootings in Orlando—Hamilton’s success may be even more timely than anyone could have imagined. And like the production itself, Annie Leibovitz’s photographs for Vogue might serve as a reminder that the future always gets worked out through thoughtful, imaginative engagements with the past.

Craig Hanson


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