MacArthur Fellows Program

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Playwright, Composer, and Performer | Class of 2015

Expanding the conventions of musical theater with a popular culture sensibility and musical styles and voices that reflect the diverse cultural panorama of the American urban experience.

Title
Playwright, Composer, and Performer
Location
New York, New York
Age
35 at time of award
Area of Focus
Theatrical Arts

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a composer, lyricist, and performer reimagining American musical theater in works that fuse traditional storytelling with contemporary musical styles and voices. Well-versed in the structure and history of musical theater, Miranda expands its idiom with the aesthetic of popular culture and stories from individuals and communities new to Broadway stages.

In the Heights (2007), which Miranda began to write while in college, is set in Manhattan’s Dominican district, Washington Heights, and expresses the pathos of an immigrant community losing its neighborhood to gentrification and its younger generation to assimilation and upward mobility. In the opening scene, Miranda showcases his linguistic dexterity in the character Usnavi (played by Miranda himself), who interweaves song, dance, and narration to introduce the other various characters. They, in turn, express themselves in musical styles ranging from hip-hop to salsa.

Miranda continues to explore the dramatic potential of hip-hop in Hamilton (2015), in which he uses an urban soundscape to tell the story of Alexander Hamilton’s rise from an orphaned West Indian immigrant to America’s first Treasury Secretary. Miranda presents policy battles, love triangles, and duels through high velocity lyrics, replete with false and slant rhymes, that expand the range of both pop and Broadway music. The daring pairing of street culture with America’s founding narrative recalls the youthful, defiant spirit of the American Revolution, and cross-racial casting connects the present day to the diverse immigrant society of the thirteen rebel colonies. Melding a love of the musical with a pop culture sensibility, Miranda is expanding the conventions of mainstream theater and showcasing the cultural riches of the American urban panorama.

Lin-Manuel Miranda received a B.A. (2002) from Wesleyan University. His other theater credits include co-composer and co-lyricist of Bring It On: The Musical (2011); actor in revivals of tick, tick…BOOM! (2014) and Merrily We Roll Along (2012); new original music for a revival of Working (2012); and the mini-musical, “21 Chump Street,” for This American Life (2014). He is also a member of the improv hip-hop group, Freestyle Love Supreme.

Photos

Photos are owned by the MacArthur Foundation and licensed under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY.
Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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