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Inside the world of Lin-Manuel Miranda

Art by Ket Gill

I'm pretty sure you all know what Hamilton is. Actually… I’m sure you all know what Hamilton is, and I’m also sure you know about Moana, Encanto, and In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the best modern songwriters and playwrights. He’s given us so much entertainment that’s outside of the box and extremely fun to listen to. I don’t know who walked into a room and was like, “let’s write a rap musical about the founding fathers,” and everyone thought it was a good idea, but they pulled it off. From his early days of songwriting, to the phenomenon that he’s grown to be, he’s had some amazing successes, and some less known. I wanted to find out just what makes his creations so good, and break down the creative process behind them.

#1: Freestyle Love Supreme
Photo by Avni Koppula

I just went to see Freestyle Love Supreme earlier this year and…oh my god. It met my expectations and exceeded them far beyond. Now, I’m sure you're probably trying to figure out what the heck I’m talking about. Freestyle Love Supreme is an improv, hip-hop, comedy musical group that was started in 2004 by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anthony Veneziale. With Freestyle Love Supreme, it’s not scripted, and no two shows are the same. They basically take suggestions from the audience on their various skits and songs and create something totally new.

During an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda about FLS on Jimmy Fallon, he says, “We started doing this in the basement of the Drama Bookshop…in like 2003.” He then says that they were working on In the Heights at the time and that they had no money and were trying to get along. ”Anthony…who worked at the bookshop, he would come in and distract us. He would be like ‘lets rap about our day.’” Miranda says that he, Christopher Jackson (Who played Benny on In The Heights), and Anthony would just do freestyle raps all of the time for fun.

Photo from Hulu

“Anthony saw this and was like… “we should do this in front of people!” And lo and behold, Freestyle Love Supreme was created. The first performance of FLS was actually during the 2003 blackout in New York, and after that, there were many on and off-Broadway productions for the OG group, and some of them even appeared on multiple T.V. shows, like the Electric Company revival in 2009. They also created their T.V. show, and in 2020, they made a documentary called We Are Freestyle Love Supreme. There have been many variations of the cast over the years, but all of them are fantastic freestyle rappers and beatboxers. During my “I’m obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda,” phase, I discovered that FLS was performing at the Pasadena Playhouse. The show was mind-blowing and arguably one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

So…if Freestyle Love Supreme is so good, why does basically everyone I asked have no idea what it is? I think this is because FLS was one of Miranda’s early projects that never really made it AS big as Hamilton or In the Heights. So…if you take anything out of this article, it should be that you should see Freestyle Love Supreme…or at least watch the documentary.

#2: tick, tick…BOOM!
Photo from IMDB

Yes, Lin-Manuel Miranda directed and wrote the music for the film version of tick, tick…BOOM! And no, no one knows about it. Johnathan Larson, who also wrote Rent, wrote tick, tick…BOOM! as a sort of life story type thing. The show was ultimately unfinished and wasn’t picked up after Larson's surprising death in 1995. In 2019, Miranda picked it up and started working on it for the film version with new songs and everything. Andrew Garfield (my favorite) stars in the movie, and in my opinion, he does amazing. I’m not going to talk too much about the plot, but in a summary, it’s about Johnathon Larson's journey into being a songwriter and composer. He’s working on a rock musical that’s taken eight years of his life, but he feels like he’s running out of time (hence the title.) He faces many challenges, like breaking up with his girlfriend, and learning that his best friend has AIDS, and he ultimately loses sight of his relationships and responsibilities in his insane drive toward completing this project. The message of this story or something that the producers and directors wanted to get across was getting people to ask the question of what are we doing with our time on earth.

When Lin started working on the movie, one of the biggest things that drove him forward, he says, is that the main character in this movie is SO much like him.

“They cut to John’s apartment,” he says, talking about how he was going over the rough cut of the movie, “And Quiara (his friend) turns to me and goes, ‘Lin…that’s your bedroom dude.’” Throughout the entire making of the movie, the whole crew tried to give it that New York 1990’s feel, and Lin really being able to feel and know what it’s like to be a struggling musician in New York made that whole idea so real.

Photo from TMDB

“And so to set this up,” he says, “The conceit of the movie is anytime John starts singing, we go into the world according to Johnathan Larson.” What Lin means by this is that the cameras switch, the colors are altered, and you feel immersed.

“And Johnathan Larson wrote this rap song called “Play Game” in 1990 and it was all about how much he didn’t like what was on Broadway.” He then goes on to talk about how this influenced the perspectives in the movie and the way that all the characters were portrayed. I think that this entire movie is an excellent way to see the thought process behind all that happened in the creation of Rent, but also to look at how musicians see and experience the world. I watched it just recently, and I loved it. So, go watch tick, tick, BOOM! (Before you run out of time.)

#3: Hamilton
Photo by Sudan Ouyang on Unsplash

Probably the most well-known and one of the best things on the list of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s projects it’s: Hamilton. I don’t know about you guys, but Hamilton was my life for a little while (it might still be.) It’s for anyone who loves storytelling, history, and anything hip hop and RnB. As soon as my parents told me that the ever talked about musical was on Disney plus, I immediately watched it, and….I fell in love. Ever since then, I literally have lived off of that soundtrack. I’ve memorized all 46 songs to the word. Just a few weeks ago, my family and I went to see Hamilton live. I thought that somehow seeing it would end my obsession but honestly, it just fueled it. I know I’m not the only one who’s become (unhealthily) obsessed with this musical, but why? Why is it so good?

Even if you haven’t seen it, you know what it is, and if you’re one of those people who hate it because it’s somewhat historically inaccurate, you still can’t deny that the music is amazing. Lin got the idea for Hamilton after reading Ron Chernow's book about Alexander Hamilton's story and, more specifically, his backstory. If you’ve seen the musical, or know anything about Hamilton, you’ll know that he was born in the Caribbean and raised poor, turning out to be one of the most influential people in founding our country. Although Hamilton may not have been a good person, he was hardworking, and Miranda thought that his story needed to be told. Lin took a year to write the songs “Alexander Hamilton,” and “My Shot,” revising them over and over. Some of the original versions of the song still exist on the current mixtape and past ones. While Hamilton was still in development, some of the songs debuted at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word. As it went on and on, grew into more of a phenomenon (you see what I did there?) Hamilton eventually won 11 Tony awards in total, falling just ONE short of the record, held by The Producers.

Photo from Variety

Ok, enough about its history– let’s talk about the musical itself. The rap style of the show makes it stand out from a lot of other shows that ran on Broadway. In fact, Daveed Diggs, who plays Lafayette in the original cast won an award for fastest rap on Broadway for the song “Guns and Ships.” Additionally, Hamilton is CHOCK full of classic rap references, giving subtle shout-outs to rappers like The Notorious BIG, Eminem, and Grandmaster Flash. The easiest of these references to recognize is probably the entire song of “Ten Duel Commandments,” which directly odes to the Notorious BIG’s “Ten Crack Commandments.” Additionally, there are hints of Eminem's “Without Me,” Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” and so much more.

I believe I speak for everyone who’s seen this musical that you learned something new while watching it. I think it’s crazy that Manuel was able to put even the tiniest details into the songs and it really makes a difference. He’s faced a lot of criticism for changing things historically to fit into the songs or completely “forgetting” to add details. My view on this is that no one said that Hamilton was 30000% perfectly accurate and there were no flaws, so if someone was expecting it to be like that, then they were watching the wrong thing. Lin’s choice to make the cast almost fully composed of Black and Brown people was a big step toward representation on Broadway, and a lot of producers and directors will follow in the footsteps of this show. Also…does anyone want to talk about how GOOD the dance choreography is??? Watching it on Disney Plus made me want to cry and when I saw it live I was literally sobbing. The way the people move effortlessly across the stage in songs like “My Obedient Servant,” or truly show the sharp, fast movement of a battle in songs like, “Right Hand Man.”

Photo by Sudan Ouyang on Unsplash

To finish this off, I want to mention a character in the musical that any *ahem* real fans have contemplated a lot, that isn’t named but plays a huge role; The Bullet. In the original cast, Ariana DeBose (who some of you may know as Anita from West Side Story) plays a character represented in many songs as death, who makes a slow march toward Hamilton through the musical. Finally, in the song, “The World Was Wide Enough,” death finally reaches him, and…he dies. I feel like this journey throughout the entire show that is neither named nor made a big deal out of really shows just how much this music has brought the feelings and thoughts of the beginning of our country to life. It shows it in a new way and brings out things that aren’t talked about that much. That's why I believe that it will continue to be one of the best musicals in history.

#4: And Everything Else

Obviously, I haven’t covered in depth all of Miranda’s fantastical and catchy creations. In The Heights, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favorites. We also can’t forget Moana, Encanto, and all the other songs and productions that he’s collaborated on. If anything, I wanted to bring your attention to stuff that you may not have known about, like FLS, or stuff you should learn more about, like Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda is, and will always be, one of my favorite creators out there, and I can’t wait to see what other astounding things he brings into the world.

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