Hip-Hop Hero Alexander Hamilton, Supertutors Eye Broadway
Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose funny, hypnotic rhyming has taken him from “In the Heights” to the cusp of mainstream stardom, has set his sights on the first U.S. Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton.
The results have some of Broadway’s top players salivating.
Many of them journeyed 75 miles north last weekend to Vassar College, where Miranda’s “Hamilton Mixtape,” directed by Thomas Kail, got a showcase at New York Stage and Film, an incubator for Broadway-bound plays and musicals.
“It was terrific,” said veteran producer Margo Lion (“Hairspray”), who was shepherding another show in the Vassar lineup.
Miranda, who co-wrote and starred in the Tony Award-winning “Heights,” employed his signature rapping and percussion to hip hop, jazz and musical-theater songs. The piece is sung-through, or sung-and-rapped-through, with little dialogue, people who saw it said.
As he had during an earlier preview last year at Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series, Miranda played the title role.
Hamilton (not unlike Usnavi, a character in “In the Heights”) was born on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean to unmarried parents, circa 1755. The family moved to St. Croix, where his parents split and his mother died, leaving him on his own. As a teenager, he clerked for a merchant and moved to New York to study at what’s now Columbia University.
Hamilton “embodies hip hop,” Miranda said at the White House in 2009 before performing a mesmerizing solo number from “Mixtape” before an audience that included President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.
“The $10 dollar founding father without a father,” he sang, “got a lot farther, by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter.”
At Vassar, the Indian-American actor Utkarsh Ambudkar reprised his role as Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s dueling nemesis. Ambudkar recently appeared in the hit movie “Pitch Perfect.”
Christopher Jackson, a “Heights” alumnus who’s to play Derek Jeter off-Broadway in the fall in “Bronx Bombers,” was George Washington. Joshua Henry (“The Scottsboro Boys”) played King George III, who in one comic ballad sings: “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
“Mixtape” may do what another show, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” couldn’t: Take an American-history theme, set it to music and sell it to Broadway’s mainstream audience. “Bloody” had a critically acclaimed run at the Public Theater but flopped uptown.
Through a spokesman, Jessica Berger, Miranda declined an interview request. She said in an e-mail that Miranda continues to write and “we’re not ready to talk about what may happen in the future just yet.”
Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum, two of the lead producers of “Heights,” attended the Vassar workshop. At a party for their 10-year-old musical “Avenue Q,” McCollum referred questions to Seller. “There’s no news yet,” Seller said. “There will be.”
New York Stage and Film also hosted the debut of what’s currently titled “A Musical Inspired by the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.,” co-produced by Amanda Lipitz and Margo Lion.
Michael Mayer directed a cast and crew sprinkled with alumni of “Spring Awakening,” the groundbreaking hit he staged in 2006.
In this new musical in development, Matt Doyle played a hardware store clerk with a talent for science who develops “Brooklynite” (think Kryptonite) with the aim of taking flight and joining the superhero ranks.
Peter Lerman wrote the pop score and Simon Rich the book, based on characters created by married writers Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman. It’s filled with jokes about subway lines and neighborhoods that may appeal to Brooklyn insiders and outsiders alike.
Steven Hoggett, an in-demand British choreographer (“Once,” “American Idiot”), conveyed the heroes’ super powers with subtle comic flourishes.
The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. is a real-life store stocked with capes and other accessories. In the back is a free tutoring center, where volunteers help kids with their writing.
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