Summary List PlacementLin-Manuel Miranda seemingly came out of nowhere. After creating “Hamilton,” he became a household name, and his career has skyrocketed in the years since.
“Hamilton,” which he wrote and starred in, made its off-Broadway debut in 2015, and it quickly became one of the most popular and most profitable musicals of all time. It easily ranks among modern classics like “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King,” and “Wicked.”
Before Broadway shut down in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, “Hamilton” was still one of the most popular shows on Broadway. Tickets were still hundreds of dollars (or thousands on resale websites), and had to be purchased months in advance.
But “Hamilton” wasn’t Miranda’s first big hit. He also wrote and starred in “In the Heights,” a musical combining hip-hop and salsa that he started to work on while he was in college, which also has a theatrical version all lined up for 2021. In just over a decade, he has won the MacArthur Genius Grant, a Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy, three Tonys, and three Grammys. He’s just an “O” away from earning an EGOT — one of the most impressive feats in show business.
As he turns 41 on January 16, we’ve profiled the rise of Miranda’s booming career, to see how he did it and how he continues to aim higher every day.
Carrie Wittmer contributed to a previous version of this article.FOLLOW US: Business Insider is on Facebook
Lin-Manuel Miranda had been interested in musical theater from an early age.
Miranda was born in New York City and grew up in upper Manhattan — specifically Washington Heights.
He credits his inspiration for a career in musicals to “Les Misérables,” the first show he saw on Broadway. He saw it with his family when he was 7 years old — you can see him praise the show during his Carpool Karaoke appearance.
His music tastes eventually evolved to include R&B and hip-hop, but musical theater was always a passion. When he attended Hunter College High School, he participated in musical theater.
Most importantly, in college, he started writing his first musical, “In the Heights,” that would eventually make it to Broadway.
In college, Miranda wrote the music and lyrics for his first musical, “In the Heights,” which he also starred in. It would go on to debut on Broadway in 2008.
Miranda’s non-stop work ethic started in college at Wesleyan University. He wrote an early draft of his first musical, “In the Heights,” when he was a sophomore in 1999. The show was added to Wesleyan’s student theater company, Second Stage, and played in April 2000.
The lively musical combines hip-hop with salsa and Latin sounds, and is set in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, a Hispanic-American neighborhood close to where Miranda grew up.
After the show’s debut, Miranda was approached about expanding the show into a Broadway production. After a run in Connecticut in 2005, “In the Heights” made its premiere on Broadway in February 2008, when Miranda was 28 years old. The show received mostly positive reviews, with many critics noting Miranda’s emotional lyrics as its strength.
“In the Heights” was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won four, including Best Musical and Best Original Score, and the show ended its run in 2011. By then, Miranda was already two years into his work on his biggest hit to date, “Hamilton.”
But while he was developing his first musical, Miranda was hustling to support himself with other jobs.
After college, when Miranda was in his 20s and supporting himself while working on “In the Heights,” he wrote political jingles.
Miranda wrote the jingles in English and Spanish for ads for politicians including Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York. He got the work through his father, who worked as a political consultant.
Even when Miranda was supporting his career in music, he was writing it.
In between “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” he also wrote music for the musical adaptation of “Bring It On.”
With “Bring It On: The Musical,” Miranda notched another Best Musical nomination under his belt, as well as a Drama Desk nomination for Best Lyrics.
Read more: The creator of Broadway hit ‘Hamilton’ shares the money advice he wishes he’d known in his 20s
Miranda began working on “Hamilton” in 2009 — it took six years for it to premiere on Broadway.
Miranda began working on “Hamilton” in 2009. He was inspired to write a hip-hop musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton after reading the 2004 biography “Alexander Hamilton” by historian Ron Chernow.
He “saw Hamilton’s relentlessness, brilliance, linguistic dexterity, and self-destructive stubbornness through his own idiosyncratic lens,” wrote The New Yorker in 2015. “It was, he thought, a hip-hop story, an immigrant’s story.”
Miranda has said that Hamilton reminded him of rapper Tupac Shakur, which is how he came up with the idea for a diverse hip-hop musical about Hamilton’s life.
Miranda worked on “Hamilton”— a project people, including his mentor and famed lyricist Stephen Sondheim, told him would never work — for years. He has said that he worked on the songs “Alexander Hamilton” and “My Shot” for an entire year each. But Miranda never let anyone’s opinion discourage him, and it ultimately made its debut at the Public Theater in 2015. Months later, it went to Broadway.
The musical earned him Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and Kennedy Center Honors.
“Hamilton” became an overnight hit, with tickets selling out and being resold for thousands — if you could even find one. In 2016, “Hamilton” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Sondheim, who was sent Miranda’s lyrics before the show came out and didn’t think it had a chance, later told the New York Times, “The wonderful thing about [Miranda’s] use of rap is that he’s got one foot in the past.”
Read more: Lin-Manuel Miranda has made millions off ‘Hamilton’ in its 5-year run. Here’s how the composer makes and spends his fortune, from luxury Manhattan real estate to philanthropic work in Puerto Rico.
After over five years on Broadway, “Hamilton” still sells out theaters, and audiences have to buy expensive tickets months in advance. In 2018, the show made a record-breaking $4 million in one weekend. The show has since been expanded to other cities in the United States and the world, including Los Angeles, London, Chicago, Sydney, and more.
One of the major draws of “Hamilton” is its emphasis on diversity, rather than historical accuracy in its casting.
As the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Miranda has made diversity an integral part of his work. “In the Heights” was about a Hispanic-American neighborhood in Manhattan, and the musical was cast accordingly.
But if anyone else had written a musical about Alexander Hamilton and his peers, it would have probably featured an all-white cast, since these historical figures were white. With “Hamilton,” Miranda opted for color-conscious casting. He chose non-white actors, save for the campy role of King George III.
For Miranda, representing the spirit of Alexander Hamilton, the spirit of the Founding Fathers, and the spirit of the American Revolution, which emulates that of American hip-hop, was more important than visual historical accuracy.
‘The idea of hip-hop being the music of the Revolution appealed to me immensely,” Miranda told the New York Times in 2015. ”It felt right.”
While the original cast has left “Hamilton,” the show has continued its color-conscious casting, and does so in its touring productions as well.
After he left the show as a cast member, Miranda kept the “Hamilton” content coming with “The Hamilton Mixtape.”
He left in 2016 to move on to other things, but he still hasn’t lost one bit of his passion for “Hamilton.” That year, “The Hamilton Mixtape,” an album that features covers of songs from “Hamilton” by popular artists including Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend, was released.
“The Hamilton Mixtape” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and marked the largest sales in a week for a compilation album since “Cruel Summer” by GOOD Music in 2012.
In December 2017, Miranda announced yet another “Hamilton”-adjacent project, the “Hamildrops.”
The first Hamildrop was “Ben Franklin’s Song” performed by the Decemberists — it was a cut song from the show that never got set to music, and was just lyrics written by Miranda. Almost every month for the next year, Miranda released a song, 12 in total.
In addition to “Ben Franklin’s Song,” there was a remixed version of “Wrote My Way Out” by Royce Da 5’9″, Joyner Lucas, Black Thought, and Aloe Blacc (the original appeared on the “Mixtape”), a polka medley of songs from the musical by Weird Al Yankovic, a mash-up called “Found/Tonight” that put together a song from “Hamilton” and one from “Dear Evan Hansen” performed by Miranda and Ben Platt, “First Burn,” which is an alternate version of the song “Burn” from the show performed by various actresses who played the role of Eliza, a cover of “Helpless” by The Regrettes, a song “Boom Goes the Cannon…” by Mobb Deep that sampled from the musical’s song “Right Hand Man,” “Rise Up, Wise Up, Eyes Up” by Ibeyi, “A Forgotten Spot (Olvidado),” which was released on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico and performed by Miranda and Puerto Rican musicians Zion & Lennox, De La Ghetto, Ivy Queen, PJ Sin Suela and Lucecita Benítez, a cut song called “Theodosia Reprise” performed by Sara Bareilles, a new “Hamilton”-inspired song performed by Miranda as his character called “Cheering For Me Now,” and — lastly — a rendition of “One Last Time” called “One Last Time (44 Remix),” which has Christopher Jackson (the original George Washington on Broadway) and former president Barack Obama reciting Washington’s real-life farewell address.
Also in 2017, Miranda got drunk and talked about Alexander Hamilton for so long that Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” had to extend his episode.
“Drunk History,” created by Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner, is Comedy Central’s liquored-up version of our nation’s history. Comedians and actors get drunk and retell a historical event. Then A-list actors, from Michael Cera to Winona Ryder, act out the narration.
In a 2017 episode, Miranda got drunk and told the story of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Speaking with Business Insider, Emmy-nominated “Drunk History” production designer Chloe Arbiture said that Miranda talked so much about Hamilton that his episode was extended. Usually “Drunk History” episodes feature a few historical events per episode.
“For the Lin-Manuel Miranda episode, we knew he was going to talk about Hamilton,” Arbiture said. “But we didn’t know it would be a long standalone episode. But there was so much great footage that we couldn’t cut. So to do it justice, we morphed it into his own episode.”
Arbiture mentioned that the extended episode length was a challenge for the production design team, especially for budget reasons.
Miranda has lent his songwriting abilities to various other films, like “Moana,” “Star Wars,” and “The Little Mermaid.”
In addition to his theater and TV work, Miranda collaborated with Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina on the music and lyrics for the 2016 Disney film “Moana,” which earned him an Oscar nomination for the song “How Far I’ll Go” in 2017. He started to work on the music for the film in 2014, a year before “Hamilton” came to Broadway.
He also co-wrote and contributed vocals to the cantina song, “Jabba Flow,” which was featured in 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
In 2017, it was confirmed that Miranda is working with songwriter Alan Menken on new music for Disney’s live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.” He is also writing music for a Sony animated film, “Vivo,” which will be released in 2021.
He’s also been acting more as well, with starring roles in “Mary Poppins Returns” and “His Dark Materials,” and a guest spot on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
In the 2018 sequel to the iconic Disney film, Miranda played Jack, a Cockney lamplighter and former apprentice to Dick Van Dyke’s character from the original film. Miranda received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
Miranda also took on the role of Lee Scoresby in the HBO adaptation of the Philip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy that premiered in 2019. It has been renewed for a third and final season.
In addition to those main roles, he’s popped up in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” as the brother of Melissa Fumero’s character, Amy Santiago, as Julián Castro on “Saturday Night Live,” as real-life actor Roy Scheider in an episode of “Fosse/Verdon” (which he also produced), among other roles. He also hosted an episode of “SNL,” making him one of the few Broadway stars to host the show — proving how mainstream “Hamilton” has become.
As if he’s not busy enough, he also wrote a book, “Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You” with Jonny Sun.
For years, almost every morning and night, Miranda famously tweeted sweet little messages and affirmations, telling his followers that everything will be OK. He worked with illustrator Jonny Sun to compile his tweets into a book with drawings. It was released in October 2018.
“The real joy of it was really working with Lin to make sure that the illustrations were reflective of him. We spent some time going through each of the tweets, and he kind of gave me like the director’s commentary of each kind of passage, and told me here’s how he was feeling this day, here’s what he was thinking of. And the joy for me was taking all of that stuff and trying to fit it into the image,” said Sun of working with the playwright.
Miranda also makes time for advocacy and charity work for Puerto Rico, especially after Hurricane Maria. He returned to the part of Alexander Hamilton when the musical was in Puerto Rico in 2019.
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria brought devastation to Puerto Rico. His parents had grown up on the island and in his youth, Miranda had spent summers there visiting his grandparents.
Since the hurricane hit, Miranda has used his platform and voice to raise awareness and funds for disaster relief. He visited Puerto Rico and saw what little remained of his grandparents’ beloved home. “My job is to amplify the concerns of Puerto Rico,” Miranda told CBS News in November 2017. Miranda said that there are still towns in Puerto Rico struggling to get aid.
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The day after Maria hit, Miranda wrote a song, “Almost Like Praying.” It features Puerto Rican artists, including Jennifer Lopez. The song was released in October 2017, and became the No. 1 song on iTunes in 17 countries. All proceeds from the song went to hurricane relief.
In January 2019, the touring company of “Hamilton” traveled to Puerto Rico, and Miranda returned to the titular role — the entire three-week run sold out and raised an estimated $15 million for Miranda’s Flamboyan Arts Fund, according to Rolling Stone.
In 2018, Miranda announced he will be making his directorial debut with the movie adaptation of the Jonathan Larson musical, “Tick, Tick … Boom!” It’s set to premiere on Netflix in 2021.
“Tick Tick … Boom!” is Larson’s other musical — the late playwright is more well-known for megahit “Rent.” Miranda was announced to be directing an adaptation of the musical in 2018. It was later picked up by Netflix, with Andrew Garfield starring. On Twitter, it was confirmed that Miranda’s directorial debut will premiere on the streaming service this year.
Last summer, the theatrical adaptation of “In the Heights” was supposed to be released, but it was pushed back due to the coronavirus.
While Miranda is not reprising his role as Usnavi, he will be making an appearance as a side character, Piraguero, or the Piragua Guy.
The movie was supposed to be released last summer, but due to the pandemic, it was pushed back a full year. Now, it’s part of HBO Max’s larger plan to release all films simultaneously in theaters and on the streaming service.
Watch the trailer here.
Just five years after its debut, a filmed version of “Hamilton” was released on Disney Plus on July 3, 2020.
Perhaps to make up for the lack of Miranda-approved musical content, the filmed version of “Hamilton,” complete with its original cast, was pushed from an October 2021 theatrical release to a surprise July 2020 drop on Disney Plus.
As CNET noted at the time, it is the only way to see the musical right now, as Broadway performances are shut down for the foreseeable future.
Read More: Lin-Manuel Miranda says he’s ‘really glad’ Prince Harry didn’t take the King George III storyline personally when he came to see ‘Hamilton’
In December 2020, Disney announced yet another collaboration with Miranda — this time, to write songs for their upcoming animated film “Encanto.”
During the overwhelming Disney Investor Day presentation, one of the less-talked-about reveals (since there were so many) was that Miranda is collaborating with the House of Mouse once again to pen the songs for the upcoming “Encanto.”
According to IMDb, the film is “centered on a young girl and her family in Colombia, who all have magical powers [while], sadly, the young girl has no powers.”