Lin-Manuel Miranda is the Tony Award-winning composer, lyricist, and star of the Broadway musical “In the Heights.” FM sat down with Miranda to discuss his visit to Harvard, his career thus far, and his skills with freestyle rap.
1. Fifteen Minutes: What did you discuss in your lecture on Feb. 28?
Lin-Manuel Miranda: I participated in this class [Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 31: “American Musicals and American Culture”] last year. It was a very fun discussion. I talked a little bit about the development of an original musical, but I also talked a little about the history of musical theater and the form. I mean, what’s fun about the musical is it’s not one art form—it’s 12 art forms smashed together—and so the development of an original one is always a different route no matter what the show is.
2. FM: What do you hope students here can learn from you and your story?
LMM: That’s a great question. I think that what I have is the unique perspective of someone who has been through it. Like all of you, I went to college—I went to Wesleyan—and I actually wrote the first draft of “In the Heights” my sophomore year in school. I had the sort of dream-come-true situation of someone who wrote a show in school and actually got it up professionally, which does not happen often. So, I don’t feel that far removed from your experience. I feel like my perspective on it is much closer to you guys than it is to the other side.
3. FM: You worked as an English teacher at your old high school while working on “In the Heights.” What grades did you instruct and what are a couple of your favorite books that you taught?
LMM: I taught seventh grade English and one of my two favorite things to teach was “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. It was amazing to watch seventh graders grasp it because there is some really tough stuff in it, but once they get their heads around it, it inspires a lot of amazing writing from them. The other one was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The best way to teach any Shakespeare is to get up and do it because they’re plays—they’re not pieces of literature to be read—and so I’d make every kid in the class play a part every day, and we read through the whole play, and it was a lot of fun. So that’s always a real highlight.
4. FM: What was it like to perform your Alexander Hamilton rap for the President?
LMM: Oh, very boring—no, I’m kidding! It was really one of the highlights of my career just to be asked to perform at the White House, much less debut something new and have it be as well received as it has been.
FM: Are there any updates on the Alexander Hamilton mixtape?
LMM: Only that I’ve gotten a lot more of it written and I hope to complete the album sometime this year.
5. FM: Can you talk about “Bring It On: The Musical” and how you approached it?
LMM: The fun of that was that it was really conceived as an original dance musical—I worked with Andy Blankenbuehler on “In the Heights” as our choreographer, and he’s our choreographer slash director here, so we had a shorthand already. And then the other highlight was getting to work with Tom Kitt and Amanda Green; it’s not often that you get to work with other composers and lyricists on a project—usually it’s just me. I learned an enormous amount from this creative team and we’re really proud of the show and its effect on audiences, so I’m curious to see what the future life of it will bring.
6. FM: I read that you were working on an Adult Swim pilot with [your hip-hop improv group] Freestyle Love Supreme—what’s the deal with that?
LMM: The deal with that is that we have a really great script and we’re waiting for approval to shoot it. I wrote a spec song, and some of the other members have written some music for it, and so we’re just sort of waiting for the go ahead to film the pilot. But it’s been a joy to work on—these are guys I’ve literally known all of my twenties, and we all have tattoos together, so let’s try to make a TV show together!