[Written by Niki Radman]
[Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson/flickr.com]
Whenever I sport my What-Would-Lin-Manuel-Miranda-Do-T-Shirt in public, people tend to give me puzzled looks and, occasionally, a hesitant “So, who is… errr –?”. It appears that there are still people in Scotland who don’t know the name Lin-Manuel Miranda. Curious. To be honest, answering their question is difficult for me. When you admire someone to the extent that I do Mr Miranda, drawing a sensitive sketch – both of perceived personality and various achievements – becomes extremely challenging. Chances of going on a disconnected ramble are high but then again how to pick from the plethora of information obtained on afternoons of compulsive googling? Nonetheless, here is my attempt at an overview.
The guy, whose name I proudly carry around in black on washed-out white, is a craftsman of words. He is someone who makes language and rhythm his personal playground. If you’ve ever heard him talk, you will know that he seems to be practically overflowing with creative energy. Some consider him one of the most important lyricists since Shakespeare. Oskar Eustis, artistic director at New York’s Public Theatre, has compared the two more than once and would do it again “without blushing or apologising”. Miranda has become known to the general public through writing musical theatre and, like Shakespeare, he has had a ground-breaking approach from the start.
me and my cousin runnin’ just another dime-a dozen,
mom-and-pop stop-and-shop and, oh my god,
it’s gotten too darn hot
Miranda’s Broadway debut In The Heights captures three days in the lives of a Washington Heights community, almost bursting out of its seams with vibrant rhythms and contagious beats. There are salsa numbers, there are ballads, there is lots of rapping. To the young writer Miranda, who grew up with Nas and Biggie in his ears, hip hop and theatre were never mutually exclusive. In this first musical, he demonstrated that the two can actually be combined successfully. In The Heights, of course, isn’t just about hip hop, it is a piece of art grown largely from Miranda’s own Hispanic roots. His parents immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico and, growing up in and around Washington Heights, Miranda was in perpetual contact with other members of the Latino community. By making Usnavi, a Dominican bodega owner, the musical’s protagonist, he gave the stage to a particular segment of society that had been underrepresented in American musical theatre for a long time. By giving the stage to the piragua vendor, the hairdresser, to Abuela Claudia, Miranda carved out a place for the people he grew up with.
the heart part is in
convincing congress Puerto Rico matters
The first time I ever saw Lin-Manuel Miranda perform was on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, where he delivered an emotional rap on Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. At first humorous, the piece became increasingly raw and urgent, points delivered like precise arrows. By the end of it, I was crying. At the time of this performance, Hamilton was already a cultural phenomenon in the US and I had a vague idea of the musical, yet had never really given it a chance. After listening to the verses on Puerto Rico, I did. The emotional appeal for relief had demonstrated that Miranda was truly talented at making politics come alive, and Hamilton took that to the next level. Yes, the show is about love, drama, intrigue. But it also turns dry policy issues into fiery rap battles. To say that I became obsessed with the show’s soundtrack would be an understatement. (I still remember not being able to focus in an important English exam because all I wanted to do is belt out the lyrics to ‘Wait For It’.) And so, because my love for Hamilton is hard to put into a reasonable amount of words, I will refrain from delving into the topic at this time. Just listen to the songs, do some research, and be amazed at the level of skill and originality that its creators have put into the final product.
How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive?
It’s hard to really know someone purely based on the work they do and the interviews they give. But in the months and years of following Miranda’s art, I have caught glimpses of someone whom I admire wholeheartedly for skill, originality, kindness and determination. Too often, we feel comfortably idle. For Miranda, prolonged periods of inactivity don’t even seem to be an option, and this attitude permeates the way he speaks, it becomes visible through everything he does. When I feel inadequate or uninspired, I try to remember this man’s immense passion for art and his urgent need to create it. I try to remember that life really is too short to let someone else tell your story. In short: Whenever I am in doubt or feel myself falling back into poisonous apathy, channelling my inner Lin-Manuel Miranda will often do the trick.