Lin-Manuel Miranda ‘Brings it On’

When Lin-Manuel Miranda was only 19 years old, he asked himself the very question that would change his life: why wasn’t there a Broadway musical about Latinos?  He then realized that if he wanted something to be done, he’d have to do it himself. That’s when In The Heights was born.

“No one writes the dream show for you. I knew I wanted to work in musical theater, I knew that we had West Side Story and two dancers in Chorus Line, but that was about it,” Miranda told NBC Latino.

It would then take seven years of long hours and side jobs to fuel this dream, but when Heights finally made it to Broadway, audiences fell in love. The show earned 13 Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Miranda, who played Usnavi – and snagged four trophies, taking Best Original Score and Best Musical in 2008.

It put Miranda on the map.

“I think I’m a writer at the end of the day. I think that’s how I enter the world,” says Miranda. “But I think writers are, at the end of the day, actors. I think they have to put on the skin of the character they’re wearing, walk a mile in their shoes and write it down when it feels true.”

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Lin-Manuel Miranda (Center) playing the character of Usnavi in the broadway musical In ‘The Heights’ (Courtesy/ Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Miranda is a Nuyorican in his own right, who grew up in the Inwood section of Manhattan and whose parents still live in Washington Heights, where In the Heights is set. After the critical success of his first musical, Miranda has collaborated with DreamWorks, made appearances on prime-time television and even rapped for President Barack Obama, among other things. But it doesn’t stop there.

In his latest project to come to life, Bring It On: The Musical, Miranda joined forces with a team of Broadway vets doing what he does best: music and lyrics. The show is a spinoff based on the 2000 cheerleading rivalry flick starring Kirsten Dunst. It opened to Broadway audiences Wednesday night at the St. James Theatre and and will run through October 7.

The music, as contemporary as it gets for Broadway, is a collaboration between Miranda, Pulitzer and Tony Award winner Tom Kitts and Broadway lyricist Amanda Green.  Bring it On explores the universal themes of friendship, hard work, being true to yourself, and being proud of who you are.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda (Right) alongside music director and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire (Left) (Courtesy/ Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Served on a platter of high intensity pop and hip-hop tunes alongside deliciously choreographed acrobatics and aerial stunts, the show tells the story of “queen” cheerleader Campbell (played by newcomer, Taylor Louderman).  The young woman is forced out of her affluent upper-middle class Truman High School bubble due to school redistricting, and we follow her journey to rough, inner-city Jackson High – which has no cheerleading squad. Soon Campbell is hitting rock bottom, and the young woman is faced with the choice of having to start over again, learning many life lessons along the way.

The show was directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler. Tony and Grammy winner Alex Lacamoire is the Musical Supervisor of the show. Both Blankenbuehler and Lacamoire are Heights alums, as well.

Lacamoire, whose parents are Cuban and who was raised in Miami, calls Miranda a “brilliant writer who doesn’t just do salsa tunes.”

“I feel lucky to be in his presence,” Lacamoire said. “I really care about him, and I really care about his music,” adds Lacamoire. “Anything that Lin does always ends up being groundbreaking, so I feel really honored to be a part of his musical circle.”

Miranda’s father, Luis A. Miranda Jr., says he and his wife, Luz, always knew their son was special.

“Lin always had embelecos,” says his father, referring to his son’s schedule, which was always taken up by small arts projects from very early on. These projects oftentimes involved friends and brought the entire family together, Miranda said.

“We always knew he was very talented; he had this aura around him – that’s always how we saw him,” says Luis Miranda. “He had this special magnetism and people always wanted to do things with him.”

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Lin-Manuel Miranda pictured at the far right, as a child, celebrating his 5th birthday with his family. (Courtesy/ Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Fast forward to Heights and beyond, Luis Miranda calls his son’s success an “indescribable feeling.” He said the family knew Miranda would succeed.

“For it to be something that celebrated us as a community was doubly rewarding, but to see our kid celebrating us, ultimately meant he was celebrating who he is,” Luis Miranda explained, referring to In the Heights.

“We knew that Heights was only the beginning of many great things,” adds the proud Puerto Rican father.

Among his current projects, Lin-Manuel Miranda is busy gearing up to shoot a pilot for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim with his hip-hop Improv group Freestyle Love Supreme.

He will then focus on finishing a hip-hop concept album about the life of US Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Miranda performed an earlier version of The Hamilton Mixtape  at the White House evening of music and poetry in 2009,  and then debuted an updated version of it at the Lincoln Center’s annual American Songbook series earlier this year.

Later this month, we can catch Miranda in the new Disney film The Odd Life of Timothy Green, by Peter Hedges. In the film, starring Jennifer Garner, a married couple having trouble conceiving suddenly become the parents of a special boy, and they turn to Miranda, a botanist, for help.

While Miranda has so much going for him, he believes in keeping it real.  “You can’t control whether a show succeeds or fails,” says Miranda. “You can’t control life and you can’t control the world, you can control what you write and who you choose to work with. That’s sort of all you can do and hope for the best. You can only trust your gut and let the rest worry about itself.”

Advice for anyone considering a career in theater?

“Go with your gut,” said Miranda. “I think the advice I’d give anyone is to take in everything: read as much as you can, watch as much as you can – even if you don’t like something while you’re watching it and then ask yourself why?,” he says. “In doing that you create who you are and you’ll be able to write accordingly.”

Video produced by Ignacio Torres

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