Thursday, June 19, 2008

He's a poet and he knows it

I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is my new bicycle. I'll admit that when I saw In the Heights, I was more drawn to college student Nina, played by Mandy Gonzalez, rather than to Miranda's Usnavi, the neighborhood bodega owner. While Usnavi is very funny, In the Heights just seemed to be more Nina's story than his.

But it was the 28-year-old Miranda's vision and tenacity that saw In the Heights through from a student production at Wesleyan University to off-Broadway to the 2008 Tony award for Best Musical. (He says only five notes remain from the original: In Wash-ing-tone Heights!) And Miranda definitely won my heart with his very witty acceptance speech on Sunday night, after winning the award for Best Score.

In every interview I've read or seen or heard he comes across as charming and down to earth and enthusiastic - like a kid who can't believe he's sitting at the adult table. Plus, he's so passionate - and eloquent - about his love for musical theatre. I really enjoyed this video of Miranda giving a tour of his dressing room at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, and then taking us onto the stage.

It can get pretty dull listening to award recipients recite a laundry list of thank-yous to their manager, agent and lawyer, but Miranda name-checked everyone while making me laugh. I've been known to write a bit of poetry myself from time to time, and I thought he did a terrific job. Simply reading the words doesn't do them justice, because the genius is in the delivery, so you can watch it here. What struck me listening to it again is how incredibly nervous he sounds, like he's just hoping he can get through it before he collapses from shock!

"I used to dream about this moment, now I'm in it!
Tell the conductor to hold the 'ton a minute
I'll start with Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman
Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller and Jill Furman
Quiara for keeping the pages turning
Tommy Kail for keeping the engine burnin'
For bein' so discernin' through every all nighter
Dr. Herbert for tellin' me "you're a writer"
I have to thank Andy Blank for every spank
Matter fact thank John Bizetti for every drink
Thank the cast and crew for having each other's backs
I don't know about God but I believe in Chris Jackson
I don't know what else I got, I'm off the dome
I know I wrote a little show about home
Mr. Sondheim, look, I made a hat
Where there never was a hat!
It's a Latin hat at that!
Mom, Dad and Cita, I wrote a play,
Y'all came to every play
Thanks for being here today
Vanessa who still makes me breathless
Thanks for lovin' me when I was broke and makin' breakfast
And with that, I want to thank all my Latino people
This is for Abuela Risa in Puerto Rico
Thank you."
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Best Score, In the Heights

Miranda mentioned in an interview after he won his Tony that he's been talking to Dreamworks about writing some music for animated films. He also said that he has a couple of ideas for musicals, but he hasn't secured the rights for them yet. I'm kind of intrigued by that last part. What could he be securing the rights to? I certainly don't want to pigeonhole Miranda as writing only about Latino subjects, but I loved the 1987 movie La Bamba, and I think the life of Ritchie Valens would make an excellent subject for a musical.

I was happy to read about another project - contributing music for a new production in San Diego of the extremely short-lived 1978 Broadway musical Working. Besides Miranda's involvement, I'm interested in this for a couple of other reasons: I met Studs Terkel, the legendary Chicago author of Working, when I was in college, and he signed my copy of the book. Plus, the show was adapted by Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz, and he's one of my personal musical theatre gods.

Between Miranda's success, and that of August: Osage County playwright Tracy Letts, I feel like I've discovered two great new voices in American musical theatre and drama, and I'm excited to see what they'll do in the future. (Ok, I know Letts isn't exactly a new kid on the block, but he's new to me).

No comments: