It takes a lot of moxie to reimagine the story of a Founding Father as a Broadway musical featuring rap and a cast devoid of even a single old white dude sporting a powdered wig.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s moxie took what could have been a dreary plodding treatment of history barely worthy of a middle school filmstrip and transformed it into a vibrant, captivating look at the passions and personalities that shaped our country’s early days.
Hamilton: An American Musical has been breaking records and new ground since it first lit up Broadway in 2015. The show took home 11 Tony Awards (it was nominated for a record-breaking 16) including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book, and earned Miranda a nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of the title character. The show also earned the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The cast recording spent ten weeks on top of Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart (when was the last time a musical did that?!) and The Hamilton Mixtape musical hit number one on the Billboard 200 when it was released.
Hamilton is hardly Miranda’s only success, either. Miranda also wrote the music and lyrics for the Tony-and Grammy-winning musical In the Heights, and he has contributed to music for big movies like Disney’s Moana and Star Wars: The Force Awakens and many other television projects.
What’s the secret to Manuel’s moxie? Here are a few insights:
Sometimes the most moxie moments happen at the beach.
Who reads a biography of a Founding Father while on vacation at the beach? Lin-Manuel Miranda, apparently. Miranda read Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton while on vacation in 2007.
“I picked up the book thinking maybe I’ll get a funny song out of it — some jokey-rap thing about the Hamilton/Burr duel. But as I read it, I realized Hamilton’s whole life was about the power of words and wouldn’t it be great to hear a hip-hop album about how we created this country?”
As he dug into the story, he saw stunning similarities between Hamilton’s feuds with Jefferson and other founding fathers and modern day beef between artists like Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. The story was begging to be told in rap form. The musical project started off as a performance before then-President Barack Obama. The performance was so well received that the project grew and evolved into a full blown musical.
Given Miranda’s robust imagination, immense talent and broad creative vocabulary, it’s not surprising that such a bold, fresh creative new work would emerge from a beach read. For people with moxie, creating isn’t work, it’s simply a part of being. Every moment, every encounter is an opportunity for inspiration.
People with moxie challenge perceptions and widen our perspective.
One of the revolutionary aspects of Miranda’s production is the intentional choice to cast all the roles with people of color. Even though historically the characters were primarily white, in the play they are not.
“Our cast looks like America looks now, and that’s certainly intentional,” Miranda told the New York Times. “It’s a way of pulling you into the story and allowing you to leave whatever cultural baggage you have about the founding fathers at the door.”
It worked. Miranda’s bold choice electrified the story, and made it accessible and relevant. Unshackled by convention, the focus shifts to the people, their motivations. The choice is especially interesting as our nation navigates a season of heightened racial tensions.
People with moxie leverage their influence for good.
In a time when there’s a lot of political pressure for athletes, artists and entertainers to keep their views to themselves, Miranda boldly uses his platform to advocate his positions on a variety of social and political topics he holds dear.
Miranda, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, has been advocating for people of Puerto Rico since it was devastated by Hurricane Maria last year. He’s also spoken up for gun control and on behalf of immigrants and refugees.
It’s always risky to speak out on controversial issues. It would be easier not to care, or at least not to care publicly. But Miranda has the moxie to risk public reproach for his opinions.
People with moxie practice it every day.
If you aren’t following Miranda on Twitter, you probably should be. He regularly sends his followers off for the day with quirky words of encouragement.
Like this one from October 12, 2016: “Good morning. Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!”
And this thought from July 5, 2016: “You’re indescribable. We writers spend our lives trying to do you justice. And you’re always more than we can capture. Good morning.”
For a guy that’s a little bit busy changing the world, it’s pretty nice of him to try to change your world, too.
If you were invited to a rap battle with Miranda, how would you open?