Lin-Manuel Miranda visits Harvard
Composer/lyricist/actor Lin-Manuel Miranda—best known as the creative force behind the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights—visited Harvard on February 28 to speak to students enrolled in Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 31: “American Musicals and American Culture,” a lecture course in the General Education curriculum taught by Carol J. Oja, William Powell Mason Professor of Music.
This was Miranda’s second visit to Harvard; the first was in April 2010, during which he also participated in Prof. Oja’s course. Both visits were sponsored by the Harvard College Program in General Education, with additional support from the Office for the Arts’ Learning From Performers program.
During a one-hour question-and-answer session with Prof. Oja’s students, Miranda discussed a number of topics related to In the Heights, including the autobiographical nature of the show, its depiction of different aspects of Latino culture, and how different musical styles were used for character development. He also joked about some of the audience’s reception to the show’s rap numbers: “I guess some people not used to rapping didn’t know how to take it; it was a new sound for Broadway. My hope was that they might ease into it; I was asking them to trust me—’It’s not going to kill you; just listen.'”
Miranda also talked about upcoming projects, including Bring It On, a musical set in the world of competitive cheerleading; The Hamilton Mixtape, a rap song-cycle about founding father Alexander Hamilton, which was recently performed as a work-in-progress at Lincoln Center; and a pilot for a pseudo-reality TV series on the Adult Swim channel featuring his improv rap group Freestyle Love Supreme. To the students’ obvious delight, he also performed two numbers from the Hamilton piece.
Miranda’s visit is one of several during the past few years by significant artists in musical theater made possible by a collaboration between Prof. Oja’s course and Learning From Performers; others have included composer/lyricists Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza), Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof) and Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic); composer Marvin Hamslisch (A Chorus Line); and the late lyricist/librettist Betty Comden (On the Town, Wonderful Town, The Will Rogers Follies). Up next on March 27 is performer Alice Ripley, 2010 Tony Award winner as Best Actress in a Musical for Next to Normal, which Prof. Oja’s students will see during its Boston premiere engagement presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company.