Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Cinematic Universe
What’s so enchanting about dreams?
February 27, 2017, 9 PM and beyond. The repeat telecast of the 89th Academy Awards was going on. The winners of three categories were announced, and the first Best Original Song nominee’s performance was coming up. Dwayne Johnson introduced the audience to the performers of the song “How Far I’ll Go?”, actor Auli’i Cravalho, who played the titular princess in Disney’s Moana, and the song’s music composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The minute the performance started, I was hooked by the dancers setting the stage for what was to come. Entered the charismatic, lively guy in a suit, who would start the song on an energetic note. Little did I know that his rap verse would catch me off-guard, only for Auli’i Cravalho to serenade the audience and the viewers with her voice (mind you, this was my first time watching Lin-Manuel Miranda perform). The next few hours were a bit of a blur for me, as I was having dinner and later had to focus on my revision for the CBSE practical exam of Computer Science [Kya din the woh! (What days those were!)].
Fast forward to the second half of 2021, and we are still in the pandemic, where most of us are cocooned by these four walls, either doing work-from-home or studying or just binge-watching movies and shows. Long story short, our lives have become even more tedious and uncertain, and we are not sure if anything that we are doing is bringing us any benefit internally.
On one such day, my family and I were like, “What shall we watch?”. On this, my younger sister decided that we would watch Hamilton, a historical fiction musical on one of the USA's founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, which turned out to be one of the most entertaining but inspiring watches ever! A few months later, on December 28, I watched Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut Tick Tick…Boom!, followed by In The Heights, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, and both turned out to be equally entertaining and energetic to watch. My family and I ended the year on a cheerful note by watching Disney’s Encanto, which had songs written by LMM.
While watching these four movies (or three, since Hamilton- the 2020 film is a live stage recording), what stuck out to me was how each piece of art that Lin-Manuel Miranda had tackled talks about dreams, having a shot at your goals, and being unique in a world where people will tell you otherwise. In Hamilton play, the titular character played by Miranda is an immigrant from the Caribbean Islands (pretty similar to Miranda being a Puerto Rican immigrant), and one of his goals was having a Revolution to gain Independence against the UK. The play also critiques the American Dream, one of the main reasons people from other countries immigrate to the US.
In Tick Tick…Boom! Jonathan Larson’s goal is to put his futuristic rock musical Superbia to Broadway. He has been working on it for eight years. He is also trying to maintain his relationships with his friends and girlfriend Susan while struggling whether his path to artistry is the right one or should he take the stable route like his friend Michael, who has a job in advertising. As the US was also grappling with the AIDS epidemic, Larson, in his mind, always felt that he could hear the clock ticking. Everyone knows what happened to Superbia, but that did not stop Larson to work on musicals like Tick Tick…Boom! and Rent; the latter changed the face of musicals forever. Tragically, Larson passed away when Rent was being performed on stage.
The 2021 movie In The Heights’ central theme is Sueñitos (little dreams in Spanish), which every person living in Washington Heights, a sprawling, predominantly Dominican neighbourhood in Nueva York (New York in Spanish), has or aspires for a better life. Whether it's Usnavi, Vanessa, or Nina, each person’s little dream also overlaps with their roots and what home is for them. Since the musical is closer to the life of Miranda, who mentioned that ITH is not an autobiography, one can’t help but find different aspects to which anyone can relate. On the other hand, Encanto is an entirely different story than the other three. But some of the elements like being unique but an odd-one-out person, its songs have that “Lin-Manuel Miranda touch”.
Talking about your dreams, being unique in a conformist world, and the idea of what home is, are not innovative concepts in entertainment. But what makes Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical work unique is how he uses a suspension of disbelief to elicit varied emotions from his audience to hook us and believe in these characters (and indirectly in ourselves) to achieve their dreams. After all, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little bit of colour to our lives.
Happy Birthday, Lin-Manuel Miranda!