How Lin-Manuel Miranda’s non-stop work ethic from a young age made ‘Hamilton’ one of the most successful musicals of all time

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  • Lin-Manuel Miranda rose to fame for his Broadway musical, “Hamilton.”
  • Miranda worked on “Hamilton” for years, and it became one of the biggest musicals of all time.
  • Miranda’s unconventional blend of musical theater and hip hop, as well as a passion for diverse representation in the entertainment industry, has transformed musical theater as we know it.
  • The success of “Hamilton” has led to a promising career writing music for movies like “Moana” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda seemingly came out of nowhere. After creating “Hamilton” he became a household name, and his career has skyrocketed in the years since as he’s continued to keep busy.

“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 ranks among classics like “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King,” and “Wicked.”

At the end of 2017, and with a mostly new cast, “Hamilton” is still one of the most popular shows on Broadway. Tickets are still hundreds of dollars (or thousands on resale websites), and have 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.

Miranda’ relentless, non-stop work ethic – which is reflective of founding father Alexander Hamilton, whom Miranda admires so much he wrote an entire musical about him – has gotten him far in the entertainment industry, even though people he trusted told him to give up on “Hamilton” while he was working on it.

But Miranda kept perfecting his passion project, and it paid off – literally. “Hamilton” consistently sells out all 1,321 seats at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York City and its touring productions across the country and in London.

At 37, Miranda has won a Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy, three Tonys, and two Grammys. He’s also been nominated for an Oscar. An Oscar win would award Miranda the coveted EGOT: an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.

In addition to his passion for hip hop-infused musicals that bring diversity to the often white-dominated entertainment industry, Miranda expertly uses his platform and fame for the greater good. In 2017, Miranda was (and continues to be) an outspoken advocate for hurricane relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which brought devastation to Puerto Rico in September.

Here, 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:


An early interest in musical theater

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Miranda was born in New York City, and grew up in upper Manhattan.

Miranda credits his inspiration for a career in musicals to “Les Miserables,” the first show he saw on Broadway. He saw it with his family when he was seven years old.

His music tastes eventually evolved to include R&B and hip hop, but musical theater was always a passion. When he was in high school at Hunter College High School, he participated in musical theater.

And in college, he started writing his first musical, “In the Heights,” that eventually made it to Broadway.


“In the Heights”

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Miranda’s non-stop work ethic started in college at Wesleyan University.

Miranda 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” won four Tony awards, 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, “Hamilton.”


Supporting his dream

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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.


“Hamilton”

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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.

“Miranda 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 Steven 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.

“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 Lin-Manuel’s use of rap is that he’s got one foot in the past.”

After over two years on Broadway, “Hamilton” is still selling out theaters, and audiences have to buy expensive tickets months in advance. In 2016, The New York Times reported that it makes about $600,000 per week in ticket sales in New York City. The show has since been expanded to other cities in the United States including San Francisco and Chicago, and recently made its international debut in London.


Prioritizing diverse casting over historical accuracy

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A 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.”

Much of the original cast has left “Hamilton,” but the show continues its color-conscious casting, and does so in its touring productions as well.


“The Hamilton Mixtape” and more

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Miranda isn’t in the cast of “Hamilton” anymore. He left in 2016 to move on to other things, but he still hasn’t lost one bit of his passion for Hamilton.

In 2016, “The Hamilton Mixtape” was released. “The Hamilton Mixtape” is an album that features covers of songs from Hamilton by popular artists including Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend.

“The Hamilton Mixtape” debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and marks the largest sales in a week for a compilation album since “Cruel Summer” by GOOD Music in 2012.

But Miranda didn’t stop there. In December 2017, Miranda released a song with indie band The Decemberists, about Benjamin Franklin. Miranda wrote the lyrics, and the band wrote the music.

In 2018, Miranda will release new songs every month on Hamildrops. Hamildrops will consist of songs like the Ben Franklin song that didn’t make it into “Hamilton.”

You can listen to “Ben Franklin’s Song” below:


In 2017, Miranda got drunk and talked about Alexander Hamilton for so long that Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” had to extend his episode.

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“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 in September, Emmy-nominated “Drunk History” production designer Chloe Arbiture said that Miranda talked so much about Hamilton that his episode was extended.

“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. Usually “Drunk History” episodes feature a few historical events per episode.

Two years after its debut, and long after Miranda left his starring role in the musical, he is still passionate about Alexander Hamilton’s life, and can literally talk about it for hours – even when drinking.


Film projects

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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.”

Miranda will star opposite Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns,” due to come out in 2018.

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.”


Puerto Rico efforts

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In September of 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. Miranda said that there are still towns in Puerto Rico struggling to get aid.

The day after Maria hit, Miranda wrote a song.

The song, called “Almost Like Praying,” features Puerto Rican artists, including J.Lo. The song was released in October, and became the number one song on iTunes in 17 countries. All proceeds from the song went to hurricane relief.

You can listen to the song below: