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'Hamilton': The power of partnership with Lin-Manuel Miranda and dir Tommy Kail




Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) and the company of
Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) and the company of "Hamilton," with book, music, and lyrics by Miranda, inspired by the book "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow, with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and directed by Thomas Kail, running at The Public Theater.
Joan Marcus

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Update: On May 3rd, 2016, "Hamilton" made history by earning 16 Tony Award nominations. 

The musical "Hamilton" opened Tuesday night at New York's Public Theater, and the reviews are glowing.

The New York Times writes: "Ambitious, enthusiastic and talented in equal measures...a show that aims impossibly high and hits its target."

"Hamilton" tells the story of the first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who was fatally shot in a duel with Aaron Burr. But the story here is one of a revolutionary figure who came from nothing and went on to change the world.

While the musical has become an overnight success, its creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has been working on the show for more than six years.

When Miranda performed at The White House in 2009 for an event featuring poetry, hip-hop and spoken word — hosted by President Obama and the First Lady — he had only one song. But it would eventually blossom into New York's hottest musical.

Miranda and "Hamilton" director Thomas Kail stopped by The Frame to chat about the origins of their acclaimed show and the history of their creative partnership.

Interview Highlights:

How did you come up with the idea to write a musical about Alexander Hamilton?

Lin-Manuel Miranda: The things you spend years writing are the things that just won't let go of you; they're just too good not to act upon. I picked Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton off a shelf in a bookstore. I was going on vacation and I just wanted a big, long biography to read, and by the end of the second chapter — and this has never happened to me before — I said, This is my next show.

There was something about his story, the unlikeliness of his story — the fact that he used his gift with words to pull himself out of pretty tragic and insane circumstances and helped build this country on the backs of those words. I found it really inspiring and I immediately thought hip-hop's one of the best ways to tell this story. This guy produced more verbiage than pretty much anybody on earth. [laughs] Well, maybe Shakespeare.

But it immediately became a compelling story to me and it wouldn't let go of me until I started writing it, so I started writing that White House piece. That was really all I had when I performed at the White House, and when they asked me to perform I was just finishing "In the Heights." And the White House called and said, "We're doing this evening, do you have anything on the American experience?" And I did.

Tommy, I want to hear a little bit more about your history with Lin, about the first time you two met and whether you immediately thought you two had something you could do together.

I started a production company called Backhouse Productions that was in residence at the Drama Bookshop down on 40th Street in New York City. Two of my classmates and dear friends from Wesleyan University were still there when I'd already graduated, and they saw a very early version of "In the Heights."

It had the same title, it was 80 minutes, it was a one-act. Lin directed it and was not in it. But the spirit of the show was absolutely there, and through strange circumstance it was recorded.

They sent me that demo, and at this point I was driving a van and sweeping stages in New Jersey for the bargain price of $100 per week, and I listened to the CD that summer in 2000 and I felt like someone had told me a secret. I knew that 500 people had seen it on that campus and that was it, and I said, "I don't know when this kid graduates, but let's find out and invite him to come work at the theater company which we have not yet founded." [laughs]



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