Lin-Manuel Miranda on the 'secret sauce' behind the cross-border hit 'Hamilton'

TORONTO — If Lin-Manuel Miranda's Twitter history is any indication, Canadians have been hankering for "Hamilton" to cross the border for a while.

Since the historical hip-hop musical made its Broadway debut in 2015, the lauded composer, rapper and actor says he's been hounded by Canadians asking when they'd get their shot to experience the unstoppable cultural phenomenon for themselves.

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Now, their online calls have finally been answered as "Hamilton" prepares to make its Canadian debut in Toronto next month to an audience full of fans who have fallen in love with the Tony Award-winning musical from afar.

"I know the show and the soundtrack has so many fans in Canada," Miranda said in a recent phone interview from New York. "I'm really thrilled that we've finally arrived."

"Hamilton" has proven a record-busting hit for Mirvish Productions, garnering 10 times the demand for tickets than any other title the Toronto theatre dynasty has staged in more than a half a century, according to a spokesman.

It's the culmination of years of mounting anticipation among Canadian "Hamilton" heads who have listened to the show's hip-hop soundtrack on repeat, hunted down bootleg performances online, or for a lucky few, flown abroad to see the production live.

At the centre of the musical sensation is a perhaps unlikely star: inaugural U.S. treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton.

It might seem strange that a show about a lesser-known U.S. founding father has amassed a Canadian cult following.

But Miranda insists that the show's "secret sauce" can't be found in an American history textbook, but rather, rests in our "personal histories" and the question of how they'll be remembered.

"I think that's really universal — the desire to make a mark," Miranda said by phone from New York.

"Swap your government for mine in terms of the specifics of what they're fighting about and what they're creating, but the desire to create those things, the desire to create things that survive us, I think is really what makes the show tick."

If you haven't brushed up on your 18th-century U.S. history, never fear, Miranda assures. The show rewards theatregoers who, like he and many other Americans, didn't learn much about Hamilton in school.

Beyond a paper he'd written in Grade 11, Miranda said Hamilton was most familiar to him as the face of the U.S. $10 bill until he picked up a biography about the statesman to read on vacation.

When he cracked the book open, Miranda said he uncovered a "14-course meal" of Hamilton's exploits to explore.

Born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Hamilton was a penniless orphan when he earned his way to New York to pursue his education.

He took up arms to join the American Revolution, eventually rising through the ranks to become a senior aide to then-general George Washington.

From there, Hamilton emerged as a key figure in crafting the U.S. constitution, and helped found the country's financial system as a member of President Washington's cabinet.

After personal foibles shattered his political ambitions, Hamilton helped his rival, Thomas Jefferson, become the third U.S. president. Then, he died in duel with his other rival, Vice-President Aaron Burr.

Despite the plot's political chicanery, Miranda said he never anticipated that the show would make "Hamilton" the name on the lips of today's lawmakers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among the many politicians who have flocked to see the musical, and Hamilton even received a shoutout during the impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump late last year.

"In telling Hamilton's story, you're also telling a story about power and who has it and who doesn't and who wants to get it," said Miranda. "That really resonates with people in politics."

For non-politicos, Miranda promises there are plenty of other "on-ramps" into the show.

He said the score includes musical "Easter eggs" for hip-hop fans and musical theatre buffs alike, drawing inspiration from artists ranging from legendary Broadway composers Rodgers and Hammerstein to rappers like Ja Rule and Ashanti.

Miranda, who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in a north Manhattan neighbourhood populated by immigrants, expects the story will have particular resonance among newcomers to Canada, who like Hamilton, have to work that much harder to gain a foothold in their new country.

"When you look at Hamilton's prodigious output from that perspective, you're like, of course he's the founder who came from somewhere else," Miranda said. "He's got something to prove."

"Hamilton" is set to run at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre from Feb. 11 to May 17.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2020.

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