Billboard chatted with Miranda, as he partnered with American Express both in bringing Hamilton to Puerto Rico and to support Small Business Saturday (Nov. 24), about everything from returning to the star role he created to his Puerto Rican roots and how art heals.
It must feel amazing to shed light on two places that have had an effect on your life with American Express.
Absolutely. This is sort of the first time I’ve ever done anything like a commercial endorsement. I’ve been approached by companies, and I’m like, "That sounds cool, but I don’t really use that thing that you’re asking me to promote." I use AmEx all the time and I was always a fan of the commercials in particular, because I feel like they are tailored to the creative people that they highlight, whether it’s Tina Fey or Wes Anderson or Martin Scorsese. So that felt like wonderful, wonderful company to be in. To be able to work on them with projects that are dear to my heart -- my first musical, In the Heights, was about local businesses in my neighborhood. You’re not going to find a subject more dear to my heart than Small Business Saturday, a day when we decide to do our Christmas shopping locally and support local businesses. They were on the front lines of creating Small Business Saturday, and I’m thrilled to help promote that. They are helping with this Hamilton Puerto Rico thing, which in a lot of ways is the most ambitious thing that we’ve done. Three weeks of shows, our goal is nothing less than to raise money for arts organizations in Puerto Rico that have been left behind in recovery efforts and artists. They’ve been instrumental in helping with that.
How do you feel art can help in times of crisis?
Even before the hurricane and everything -- Puerto Rico is one of the greatest exporters of artists, given how small the island is. We gave the world Luis Fonsi, Ricky Martin, Rita Moreno ... Arts are what help us feel whole. In the wake of Maria, the worst hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, our stories are important. The way artists help us process Maria and its aftermath and the stories that are not told -- artists are going to be the ones who tell those stories in a way that resonates beyond the headlines and beyond the newspaper reports. The work that will come out of this terrible thing will help make sure people won’t forget.
And now bringing Hamilton to Puerto Rico adds to that focus on the importance of the arts in general.
I think the thing that first grabbed me about Alexander Hamilton when I was reading his biography and made me fall in love with this as a subject for a musical was that he was from the Caribbean. He was born in Nevis, grew up in St. Croix. I saw a lot of parallels between him and my father. The other sort of poetic circle that we’re closing is that he left because of a hurricane in St. Croix. We mention it in the opening number of the show. A hurricane destroyed St. Croix and he wrote an account of it. You talk about artists and their importance -- he wrote an account of the hurricane that was so well-written, that people on the island took up a collection to send him to get his education in the colonies, which meant a boat from St. Croix to New York. The fact that we can tell that story in the Caribbean again, there’s an incredible poetic justice.
You’re reprising your role as Alexander Hamilton.
I always knew I’d do that!
Do you have a new outlook on it?
I don’t know, I’m not quite there yet. You can ask me again in January! I’m nervous, but what I try to remind myself is when I was doing the show in the middle of 2016 and it was so crazy and it was getting attention and people I was a huge fan of were suddenly in the audience and there were lines outside for us … the most peaceful three hours of my day were the three hours onstage playing Hamilton. It’s the only time in my life where I only have one job. My job was to play Hamilton and live his life through the musical. It sounds weird, but I’m looking forward to the relaxation of just playing the part.
Do you think the people of Puerto Rico will connect with the play in a different way than you’ve seen in Broadway audiences?
I hope so. I went to visit Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago and I showed up at an event, and this group of kids started to sing the opening number to me. Their ring leader, I found out, was this guy who happened to be their English teacher using Hamilton to teach English in his classes. It’s so deep over there, the pride they have in the show and the pride they have in me, who has such a connection to the island. I feel so proud, and my only job is to get onstage and give them everything I have.