Chicago welcomes ‘Hamilton’ creator to theater family

‘Hamilton’ creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, talked about his writing and applauded Chicago’s theater scene in a conversation with Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones at the Lyric Opera House Sept. 23.

By ‘Hamilton’ creator

Shedding his sneakers because “I tell the truth more with my shoes off,” Lin-Manuel Miranda walked onstage at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, for a conversation with The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones as a packed house roared with adulation for the charismatic playwright and actor.

His Sept. 23 appearance at the opera house kicked off the Chicago Humanities Festival season and filled the iconic theater. 

The conversation with theater critic Jones discussed Miranda’s “little show ‘Hamilton,’” which opens in Chicago Sept. 27 at the PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe St. Miranda called Chicago the best theater city and said he will be on hand for the opening performance. 

The conversation highlighted Miranda’s theatrical success, what goes on in his creative mind that never sleeps and “Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. 

“This event sold out in 10 minutes flat, and it’s just two guys—really one guy with a microphone—and yet here everybody is,” Jones said as the conversation’s icebreaker. 

Miranda had barely taken a breath to respond when the crowd burst into cheers, as it would many times that night.

“The moment I realized this thing was a musical was towards the end of the second chapter [of Ron Chernow’s autobiography of Alexander Hamilton] where he boasts one of the first writings we ever had from Hamilton [at] about 14 years old,” said Miranda, paraphrasing Hamilton’s essay, which was about his determination to be a success and the hardship of being an immigrant orphan. 

“He is broken, he is from nowhere, and the only way to rise when you are in that position is through military glory, but showing intense smarts and cynicism about where he is,” he said. 

Miranda said the musical drives home the lesson about who survives you, regardless of how you live your life. Hamilton’s story was survived through his writings and the efforts of his wife, Eliza Schuyler, who opened the first private orphanage in New York in honor of Hamilton.

“You could have done incredible things in your life and career, but if those who  survive you don’t tell your story, then it’s like it never happened,” he said.

Miranda is taking a break from the musical and passed the lead role to other actors like Miguel Cervantes for Chicago’s “Hamilton” and Javier Muñoz, who took over for Miranda in New York after he left July 9. 

In usual Miranda fashion, his hands and mind are busy working on new projects. He is working on the “Hamilton Mixtape,” which will feature remixes of the show songs with notable hip-hop artists like Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper, Usher, Busta Rhymes and Sia. He is also writing the music for Disney animated film “Moana” and produced BPS’ “Hamilton America,” premiering Oct. 21. Miranda said he is not through playing the title character.

“‘Hamilton’ is a 14-course meal, so I don’t think I am done with the role,” he said with a grin, to which the crowd cheered.

When Jones asked how many audience members had tickets to see “Hamilton” in Chicago, all hands went up. That is no surprise for a show that sold out in New York for more than a year with standard and premium tickets costing $139‑$549, according to the musical’s website. 

In Chicago, it is not much different. The show, produced by Broadway in Chicago, is mostly sold out until January 2017, and one ticket is selling for more than $400, according to Ticketmaster. Because of the overwhelming demand, producers of the show added six more months of performances through Sept. 17, 2017. Tickets will go on sale when the musical opens, according to a Sept. 22 Chicago Tribune article. 

Miranda, a born and raised New Yorker who also is Puerto Rican, said visiting Chicago’s Puerto Rican neighborhood Humboldt Park was a highlight of his trip. While imitating his father, Miranda said Puerto Ricans in Chicago did what Puerto Ricans in New York never managed to do—claim a portion of the city as theirs and not let others take it away.

“It’s very weird to come to a place you’ve never been to and feel instantly at home,” he said. 

Miranda’s fans came from near and far hear him speak. Some drove six hours, like Emily Miels, who came from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with her friend. Miels, who is an entertainment reporter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is seeing “Hamilton” Nov. 13. Miels also was lucky enough to have her question randomly answered by Miranda during the conversation. Audience members had the chance to write questions for Mr. Miranda before the show started by writing them on little cards and handing them to ushers at the event. 

“I love hearing about the process behind creative projects, and he is an incredibly passionate and creative person, so that’s always inspiring to hear how their brain works,” Miels said. 

Rami Kablawi, a freshman at the University of Chicago who attended the event, said seeing Miranda speak honestly about his work was influential. 

“[Miranda] is one of the most amazing minds doing art right now—it is crazy to be in a room with somebody like that,” Kablawi said, who is seeing “Hamilton” in Chicago in December.  

Known for his freestyle raps, Miranda did not disappoint. With Jones’ help, the two did a Chicago-themed freestyle to close out the night. 

Miranda made sure to give advice to aspiring artists—especially those who are “advised to get a ‘real job, and do your writing on the side,’” as Jones said. 

“That’s good advice in that it’s practical,” said Miranda, who earlier told the crowd  his first job was at McDonald’s. 

“Cover your nut—get health insurance,” he said. “But at the same time, do what you love and don’t let anyone stop you.”