Lin-Manuel Miranda is perhaps most commonly known as “that guy from Hamilton,” a reference to his performance in what has become one of the biggest Broadway musicals of all time, but Miranda is spreading his wings. Right now he’s establishing himself within the film industry as well, having written songs for the Moana soundtrack, and the recent announcement that he will be producing and writing music for the Kingkiller Chronicles. Pretty soon, it seems, Miranda’s name will be known across genres, but what exactly has he done to get this far, and why are film studios (especially Disney) so anxious to secure his talent?
Miranda graduated from Wesleyan University in 2002. While there, he wrote the first draft of a new musical, In the Heights, which focused on life in the Dominican-American area of Washington Heights in New York City, where Miranda grew up. The show made its debut off-Broadway, before moving to the Great White Way in 2008. Miranda also starred in the production, which won the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Score, as well as the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. Not bad for a professional debut.
The show has since played all over the world, enjoying vast success, and has extended its booking period in London’s West End three times due to phenomenal demand. Following In the Heights, Miranda wrote Bring it On, a musical which successfully toured the U.S. before playing a limited Broadway engagement. The show earned two Tony nominations for Best Musical and Best Choreography.
Miranda is a man who likes to keep moving, though, and after two successive hit musicals he wrote Hamilton, which has eclipsed pretty much everything else playing Broadway right now. It’s hard to imagine how a musical about the Founding Father Alexander Hamilton with a rap and hip-hop soundtrack could work, but it does. In fact, it works so well that it’s hard to list the amount of accolades Hamilton has to its name... but we can at least cover the highlights.
In 2016, Hamilton received a record 16 Tony nominations, winning 11 of its nominated categories. The book, music and lyrics all come from Miranda, who played the central role of Alexander Hamilton from the show’s conception until July of this year. The show has enjoyed unprecedented critical and commercial success; Miranda has managed to tap into something in the public psyche that has caused the show to become a global phenomenon before its even set foot outside of the United States. Hamilton is still playing on Broadway, where just last week it enjoyed the highest week’s takings of any musical ever, and it’s also now in residence in Chicago. The show will embark on a nationwide tour in 2017 and will also open in London’s West End.
Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t taken long for Miranda to come to the attentions of the film industry, but he seems to keep a lot of his projects fairly low-key, such as his involvement in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Miranda wrote a song for Maz Kanata’s Cantina scene, but his involvement in the project wasn’t revealed until the film’s release. Likewise, Miranda has co-written the soundtrack to Moana, Disney’s newest release, which features the voice of Dwayne Johnson as a Polynesian demigod. Though Miranda's contribution was known in advance, it has not been as heavily publicized as one might think; it seems as though song writing is something Miranda does for the love of it, first and foremost, and the attention his talent receives comes second.
His work with Johnson has continued, too. The pair recently released the short musical, Millennials: The Musical, a satire on modern-day living all wrapped up with the hashtag, #Drama. The musical was released on YouTube and bears what is now becoming the hallmark of a Miranda musical; upbeat, infectious tunes and high quality, accessible rap music. It’s also incredibly funny, and the collaboration between Miranda and Johnson seems to be one that benefits all concerned - particularly fans.
But it’s the collaboration between Miranda and Disney that’s really one to watch. This relationship began when Miranda wrote music for Star Wars, and became strengthened with his work on Moana. It was then cemented by the announcement that Miranda will star in Mary Poppins Returns, and co-produce and write new songs for the Little Mermaid live-action remake.
Mary Poppins Returns will star Emily Blunt as the titular nanny, who revisits Jane and Michael Banks as emotionally disconnected adults. Miranda takes on the role of Jack, a lamp-lighter who’s essentially the Bert character of the sequel. Meanwhile, not much is known of The Little Mermaid live-action remake, which has yet to get a release date, but Miranda will serve as co-producer on the project, which has the potential to be as eagerly anticipated as next year’s Beauty and the Beast.
The Little Mermaid is beloved by many, and it has already demonstrated its worth as a live-action production when it played on Broadway from 2007 to 2009. Like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid’s score comes from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and the music is a large part of the movie’s appeal. For the live-action version, Miranda will work with Menken on writing new songs to compliment the existing score. It’s not yet known if Miranda will also take on an acting role, but this certainly won’t be the end of his collaborations with Disney, since he is also working with Zootopia co-director, Byron Howard, on a new Disney animated movie.
Miranda has certainly proven himself as a man of many talents. It’s impossible to pigeonhole him since he doesn’t just write rap music, or upbeat musicals; he writes stories with heart, songs that fall under a wide variety of genres, he acts, sings, dances, and now he produces, too. Just this week, it has been announced that Miranda will serve as a producer on Lionsgate’s Kingkiller Chronicles adaptations. The movie and TV series will be based on the novels of the same name by Pat Rothfuss, and Miranda is also expected to compose original songs and music for the production.
Miranda’s love for his work is evident when he is interviewed about his projects, and clearly he likes variety, but there is a possibility he might end up spreading himself too thinly. He’s heavily involved with the West End casting of Hamilton, and also has studios breathing down his neck over film adaptations of both Hamilton and In the Heights, a project that Miranda has been trying to get off the ground for many years. He has since said that he would like more people to see both musicals in their organic, live state before committing them to film, and that’s understandable. It might also give him a little more time to sign off on some of his many existing projects before taking on even more.
It seems almost certain that Miranda will go down in history as one of the greatest musical composers of all time, joining the likes of Menken, Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Steven Sondheim and, given the amount of hard work he puts in, all the accolades, awards and recognition will be entirely well-deserved.
- Moana (2016) release date: Nov 23, 2016
- Mary Poppins Returns (2018) release date: Dec 19, 2018