‘Rap­pers love Je­sus Christ Su­per­star’

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Theatre -

‘Hamil­ton’ cre­ator Lin-Manuel Mi­randa and An­drew Lloyd Webber on mu­si­cal theatre – from Ham­mer­stein to hip hop

and I was like: “Oh this is about a song­writer who needs mu­sic to get girls to like him… this is about me!”


When I started out, ev­ery­one wanted to be ei­ther a Bea­tle or a Stone. If you said you liked Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein, peo­ple looked at you as though you were on an­other planet. I was plough­ing quite a lonely fur­row. Fun­nily enough, the first piece of mine that re­ally took off was Joseph and the Amaz­ing Tech­ni­color Dream­coat, which was writ­ten for a school – it was telling his­tory in a new way… which I sup­pose brings us on to Hamil­ton.


That’s re­ally our shared DNA, be­cause when I read Ron Ch­er­now’s bi­og­ra­phy of Alexan­der Hamil­ton, by the end of the sec­ond chap­ter, I re­alised hip hop was the only way to tell this guy’s life story. I said: “I’m about to get my An­drew Lloyd Webber mo­ment. I will do a con­cept al­bum and I will have rap­pers play the Amer­i­can Found­ing Fa­thers.” In my head, I was go­ing to make this amaz­ing al­bum and ev­ery­one who lis­tened would ask: when will it be on stage?


We were forced to do the Je­sus Christ Su­per­star al­bum be­cause no one thought a stage mu­si­cal about Je­sus was a good idea. We recorded a sin­gle, Su­per­star, and it got a bit of trac­tion round the world. As a con­se­quence, the record com­pany said: “OK, you can have money to do the al­bum.” We did the record al­most by mis­take be­cause no one would stage it.


With Hamil­ton I had to write the show in or­der to make the al­bum – so I went around it back­wards. I’d been say­ing hip hop be­longs on Broad­way for years. The things I love about hip hop are also the things I love about my favourite mu­si­cals – how you tell a story, how much you can pack into a lyric. The show had a weirdly public ges­ta­tion. I per­formed the first song [of Hamil­ton] at the White House, as one does. Obama had just been elected; they in­vited me to per­form some­thing from In the Heights – “un­less you have some­thing about the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence”. I sent the pro­ducer of the evening the lyrics. He wrote back: “You’re go­ing to be the clos­ing num­ber of our night.” It went well and I then worked at a glacial pace, a song a year. By 2010, when I had two songs, Tommy [Kail, the show’s di­rec­tor] said: “Let’s start set­ting dead­lines.”

I was drown­ing in the re­search. John Wei­d­man [a li­bret­tist and fre­quent Stephen Sond­heim col­lab­o­ra­tor] said: “Stop wor­ry­ing about get­ting ev­ery­thing, just write the parts you think are a mu­si­cal.”

That’s ex­actly what I did. There was a ver­sion where there were dia­logue scenes be­tween songs; we worked with a great play­wright, who will re­main un­named, who wrote th­ese beau­ti­ful dia­logue scenes. But it didn’t work… The usual rule of mu­si­cals is that you talk and when it’s height­ened, you sing – and when it’s even more height­ened you dance. In our show, we in­verted that: you only talk when it is su­per-im­por­tant.


I re­mem­ber meet­ing Richard Rodgers after Su­per­star came out. The only thing he wanted to know was: did I think the through-sung mu­si­cal was go­ing to be the fu­ture? I re­mem­ber say­ing: I think it’s horses for cour­ses, with cer­tain shows you’ve got to have dia­logue. You can have a great score and a bad story and the great score can’t nec­es­sar­ily carry the show. But you can have a not ter­ri­bly good score and a great story and it will still work.


For me, the in­sight with Hamil­ton was: this is a story hip hop is uniquely suited to tell, be­cause Hamil­ton cre­ated him­self through his writ­ing. I’d go: “Oh, he writes un­der pseu­do­nyms, who does that? Rap­pers do that!”

What was in­cred­i­ble was that the show be­came a mag­net for the hip hop com­mu­nity. All my dreams came true with In the Heights –I went from broke sub­sti­tute teacher to Broad­way com­poser – that’s the big­gest leap I’ll ever make in my life. That said, it never re­ally landed with the hip hop com­mu­nity, even though there’s a lot of hip hop in it. So to have the hip hop com­mu­nity come to Hamil­ton, and [Amer­i­can rap star] Busta Rhymes sit in the front row, was in­cred­i­ble.

Au­di­ence mem­ber

Can suc­cess be­come a strait­jacket?


It can be. I was the cover story on Time magazine in 1988 and I re­mem­ber think­ing: “I don’t need this, I’m a Brit, I’m not part of the Broad­way com­mu­nity. It’s go­ing to make things very dif­fi­cult for me.” You have to re­main true to your­self, and write next what you ac­tu­ally want to write rather than what you think you should write about.

Paul Taylor-Mills, artis­tic di­rec­tor of The Other Palace

After Hamil­ton what do you do next; and how do you keep your hu­mil­ity?

Mu­si­cal mas­ters: left, Lin- Manuel Mi­randa and An­drew Lloyd Webber in con­ver­sa­tion at The Other Palace theatre, Lon­don

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