Lin-Manuel Miranda hasn’t had to devote much thought to decorating his dressing room at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where he’s currently starring as a singing, rapping Alexander Hamilton, “the 10-dollar Founding Father without a father,” in eight sold-out performances a week. There’s the couch where he takes his pre-show naps, a PlayStation he occasionally fires up, a cassette boombox he just bought to play old tapes he dug out of his parents’ place, a bottle of arthritis-strength Tylenol for his choreography-afflicted neck and shoulders. And when you’re the creator and star of the most revolutionary Broadway hit since Rent, people send you stuff: bobblehead Hamilton dolls, high-end headphones, flowers, “1776” whiskey, a Hello Kitty toaster, stacks of books. “Someone sent me a rhyming dictionary,” Miranda says one Tuesday afternoon in late summer, a few hours before a show. He pulls the volume from a shelf and arches his eyebrows. “Do I look like I need a fucking rhyming dictionary?”
There are nearly 50 songs in Hamilton (its Playbill lists only 34, in the interest of not scaring audience members out of their seats), most of them drawing on hip-hop and R&B, all of them stuffed with lines like, “I’m in the Cabinet, I am complicit/In watching him grabbin’ at power and kiss it/If Washington isn’t gon’ listen to disciplined dissidents . . .” There’s a song called “Ten Duel Commandments” that plays off the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments”; George Washington introduces a Cabinet meeting that turns into a rap battle by paraphrasing Jay Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”
Miranda is equally conversant with the oeuvres of Stephen Sondheim and Big Pun, of Alan Menken and Biggie, of XTC and Rubén Blades — and these days, he’s tight enough with Sondheim himself to send the 85-year-old composer rap songs he thinks he’ll like. Miranda credits a lot of his cultural nimbleness to the “bifurcation of my childhood,” adding, “I’ve been code-switching since I was five.” He grew up commuting between a Hispanic neighborhood in northern Manhattan and a highly selective Upper East Side public school for gifted kids, while spending his summers in his father’s native Puerto Rico, and later going on to college at artsy Wesleyan. He’s been making art, putting on little shows, shooting home movies, since he was small — he wrote his first musicals before high school. So, yeah, Miranda has no call for a rhyming dictionary — he just needs to put his brain on shuffle.
Miranda is 35 but looks weary enough to seem slightly older, a condition that’s probably temporary. He’s still puffy-lidded from the exhaustion of simultaneously tending to a baby musical and an actual baby — his wife, Vanessa, gave birth to a son, Sebastian, as Hamilton’s tech rehearsals began. Sebastian, whose name is only tenuously linked to his dad’s love for Menken’s Little Mermaid score, just started sleeping through the night.