Everybody loves a party, but the excitement for organisers of this weekend’s Royal Albert Hall celebration for the 100th anniversary of the birth of the novelist and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda has run away with them.
But, in a sense, the excitement itself seems disconcerting. Part of the problem is that it, too, is marking something that, like Nelson Mandela, Ben Bradlee and Meghan Markle, is in the past and too rare a thing to get excited about. If it still isn’t easy to recall with anyone’s memory when the last time was that a young black man wrote a big hit musical based on his hero, Frederick Douglass – one that includes dialogue that matches the way the world actually sounds – it is to feel a sense of absence.
Swansea to stage Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights musical Read more
It is the sense of the loss that he feels on that he recounts in his autobiography, the price he pays for being “a slave of slave culture”, “abandoned on the track like a slave”. He is a nervous, unreliable writer. He writes. “‘You realise,’” he says, “I said, my voice trailing off, ‘that I’m not that much different from this house or this country or this river or this state or this country. I’m just writing about something for which I have no question and nothing to live for.’”
But at least he lives in Manhattan and is making something that is written by others. Having seen In the Heights on Broadway and spent my first month of teaching the musical, I still know all the dialogue. I can relate to the anxiety of how a scene with the camera flashing might ruin a good moment for the show’s sake. I can see where he is coming from, but also sympathise with the urge to write what I want to do.
The danger is that with independence comes loss, and with loss comes, perhaps, madness.