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'Fresh Air' Favorites: 'Hamilton' Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda


This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. We usually spend this time of the season revisiting some of our staff's interview picks for the year. But since this is 2019, we're widening the scope and presenting some of the staff picks for the entire decade. Today, the focus is on Broadway musicals. And our guests are some of the artists behind some of the biggest hits of the decade. Later, we'll hear from TV's "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, whose musical "The Book Of Mormon" premiered on Broadway in 2011 and became a major hit.

The biggest hit of the decade was written by our first guest, Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose musical "Hamilton" won 11 Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Miranda wrote the music, the lyrics, the book and starred on stage in the original cast. Almost five years since it premiered in 2015, "Hamilton" remains the hottest ticket on Broadway. Miranda's first Broadway show, "In The Heights," was a musical set in a Latino neighborhood in New York similar to the one in which he grew up. In 2008, that show also won the Tony for best musical. Terry Gross spoke with Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2017 after he had left his starring role as Alexander Hamilton. But his hip-hop musical about the Founding Fathers remains a cultural phenomenon.


TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: OK, so I want to talk to you about Hamilton. And so let's start with "My Shot."


GROSS: And this is Alexander Hamilton making his big statement about how, you know, he's come to America. He's going to make it. And he's not giving away his shot. You know, and first, it's going to be in the Revolutionary War and then in the new American government. So let's hear some of it, and then we'll talk. So this is Lin-Manuel Miranda from the cast recording of "Hamilton."


MIRANDA: (Rapping) I am not throwing away my shot. I am not throwing away my shot. Hey yo, I'm just like my country, I'm young, scrappy and hungry, and I'm not throwing away my shot. I'm 'a get a scholarship to King's College. I probably shouldn't brag, but, dag, I amaze and astonish. The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish. I got to holler just to be heard. With every word, I drop knowledge. I'm a diamond in the rough, a shiny piece of coal trying to reach my goal. My power of speech, unimpeachable. Only 19 but my mind is older. These New York City streets get colder. I shoulder every burden. Every disadvantage I've learned to manage. I don't have a gun to brandish. I walk these streets famished. The plan is to fan this spark into a flame, but damn, it's getting dark so let me spell out the name. I am the A-L-E-X-A-N-D-E-R. We are meant to be a colony that runs independently...

GROSS: That's Lin Manuel-Miranda from his cast recording of "Hamilton." So you are so incredible at these, like, intricate rhymes that you do in this show. How do you assemble all these intricately placed rhymes?

MIRANDA: For me, the fun of writing "My Shot" was it's Hamilton's declaration of purpose. And I wanted to demonstrate his intellect and his ambition not just in what he was saying but in the way he was saying it. So prior to his arrival and singing "My Shot," the other guys in that bar - right? - Laurens, Mulligan and Lafayette - are rhyming at the end of the line. It's (rapping) I'm John Laurens in the place to be. Two pints of Sam Adams, but I'm working on three.

We rhyme at the end of the line. And then here comes Hamilton. And suddenly, you're getting a lot of internal assonance and a lot of internal rhyming and not content to just rhyme at the end of the line but, you know, have these big pun-esque lyrics, you know? (Rapping) I know the action in the street is exciting, but Jesus, between all the bleeding and fighting, I've been reading and writing.

So it's - they're intricately tied together. And if you consider that Hamilton is delivering this in real time, suddenly you're like, whoa, this is the greatest freestyler who ever lived (laughter). And so that was the fun in constructing that. And it was many days and months of work to sort of make his lyrics just that much more intricate than everybody else's.

GROSS: Because he was so smart and verbal...


GROSS: Yeah. So do you use any tools like a rhyming dictionary? Do you catalog words? Do you have, like, lists of words that you - like, when you were doing your research, did you write down key words that you thought would be good to use in lyrics and so that you'd have a kind of storage box of, like, words or phrases that you could work with?

MIRANDA: I would love to tell you that that's exactly what I did.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MIRANDA: That would seem like I took such care. But honestly, I kind of throw the kitchen sink at whatever situation I'm in at the moment I'm writing. So I remember when I got up to Lafayette's section and being, like, wow, I don't even have conversational French. So going and figuring, how do you say [expletive] you in French? How do you say - how do you count to 10 in French? I didn't know any of these very elementary things - and doing research just to be able to have it feel tossed off by Lafayette - a mix of French and English while he is learning English in the original colonies.

And that was, you know, that amount of time that I spend for those two lines and also sort of a love letter to Lancelot in Camelot, which is my mother's favorite score. So have him ending his line with "C'est Moi," which is Lancelot's big tune - that's my little love letter to Lerner and Loewe, just him saying that. So the answer is no, I kind of - I stop and research whatever situation that's in. That being said, I did have Ron Chernow's book as a guidepost.

GROSS: Do you do anything to be able to capture the speed without tripping up your tongue? Does it get harder or easier over time when you're doing the same, you know, raps every night? And again, it's really fast, intricate lyrics, and you have to get them on the beat and do it without stumbling.

MIRANDA: The fact that I'm a performer helps me enormously as a lyricist. I wouldn't give a performer something I couldn't deliver myself, with the occasional exception of Daveed Diggs, who's just so exceptionally articulate and able to articulate at high speeds that I give him some raps that I probably couldn't deliver the same way at that velocity. But I'm not trying to make something that is difficult to perform every night. It needs to proceed at the speed of that character's thought because that's the only way it's actable. But, you know, it's interesting. I think the - it was an enormous challenge to do that show every night. And yet who to blame but myself?

GROSS: (Laughter).

MIRANDA: I wrote the part. And it was also the most thrilling roller coaster every night. You know, I got to fall in love. I got to win a war. I got to write words that inspired a nation.

GROSS: So "Hamilton" has such an interesting connection to the White House for two reasons. The show basically originates at the White House. You started off thinking of "Hamilton" as a concept album about Alexander Hamilton, and the first time you performed one of the songs - the opening song from the show - it was at the White House. What was it - like, an evening of American music or something that Michelle...

MIRANDA: Yeah. It was evening...

GROSS: ...Obama presented?

MIRANDA: ...Of poetry and spoken word. Yeah. And it was in about May of 2009. You know, fresh new administration - and thrilled to be asked.

GROSS: Let's hear a little bit of that performance at the White House from 2009. Here's Lin-Manuel Miranda.


MIRANDA: I'm thrilled the White House called me tonight because I'm actually working on a hip-hop album. It's a concept album about the life of someone I think embodies hip-hop, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.


MIRANDA: You laugh. But it's true. He was born a penniless orphan in St. Croix of illegitimate birth, became George Washington's right-hand man, became treasury secretary, caught beef with every other Founding Father - and all on the strength of his writing. I think he embodies the word's ability to make a difference. So I'm going to be doing the first song from that tonight. I'm accompanied by Tony-and-Grammy-winning music director Alex Lacamoire.


MIRANDA: Anything you need to know - I'll be playing Vice President Aaron Burr. And snap along if you like.

(Rapping) How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar? The $10 Founding Father without a father got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter. By 14, they had placed him in charge of a trading charter. And every day while slaves were being slaughtered and carted away across the waves, our Hamilton kept his guard up. Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of. The brother...

GROSS: That's Lin-Manuel Miranda performing the opening number from "Hamilton" at the White House with Michelle and Barack Obama in the audience. So let's skip ahead - when Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended "Hamilton," and he was cheered - he was booed when he was there. And then when the show was over, Brandon Victor Dixon, who now plays Aaron Burr, came out and read, like, a little speech directed to Mike Pence. And I'll read some of it for our listeners who might not have heard this yet.

This is what he said. (Reading) Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at "Hamilton: An American Musical." We really do. We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us - all of us. Thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds and orientations.

So you co-wrote this. That's my understanding. You co-wrote it with the director and the producer. Do I have that right?

MIRANDA: Yes, with Tommy and Jeffrey. We got the heads-up that he was coming that afternoon and sort of put that together before his arrival.

GROSS: OK, so what was the conversation like between you and whoever else was involved about whether you should say something or not?

MIRANDA: Well, the conversation was, this has been an incredibly divisive election with a lot of hurt feelings and disappointment and anger on both sides. And the overwhelming sort of statement within that statement is, we truly hope you lead all of us. We're a play that tells the story of our founders with a very diverse company that we feel, you know, reflects what our country looks like now. And so it was really intended as an olive branch. You know, please lead all of us. And I was - what I was really grateful for was that Sunday, Mike Pence really was grateful for that and I think got it in the sentiment in which it was intended. He said, I wasn't offended. I assure you that we are trying to lead all of you. And so I was grateful for his statements and for him stopping to listen. You know, he didn't have to do that, but he did. And I thought it felt like a civil dialogue between us.

BIANCULLI: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer and lyricist of the Broadway musical "Hamilton," speaking to Terry Gross in 2017. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2017 interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer, lyricist and original star of the musical "Hamilton." It's one of our staff picks for interviews of the decade.


GROSS: So "Hamilton" is, in part, a story about an immigrant and - about immigrants and - which, of course, relates to your family background. Your father came to New York from Puerto Rico for college. And your mother...

MIRANDA: Technically making him not an immigrant because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, but the experience of Spanish to English and displacement is very similar.

GROSS: Right. Exactly. And your mother, I think, moved as an infant to the U.S. from Puerto Rico.

MIRANDA: Correct.

GROSS: And you grew up in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. You went to, like, the Hunter College elementary and high school. Do I have that right?

MIRANDA: That's right.

GROSS: Yeah. So you've spoken in the past about this divide between who you were at home and in your Latino neighborhood and who you were at school with friends. What was the difference between those two yous?

MIRANDA: Oh, man. I feel like we've just stepped into Code Switch because that's what I was doing. I think that's sort of the interesting thing. I mean, I think if you want to make a recipe for making a writer, have them feel a little out of place everywhere, have them be an observer kind of all the time, and that's a great way to make a writer. I won the lotto when I got into Hunter. To get a great, free public-school education sort of saved my family, and I was aware of it. I was aware of - that I was at a school with kids who were really smart.

And I also had friends in the neighborhood who went to the local school. And I remember feeling that drift happen. You know, when you spend your entire day with someone, your closer friends become the ones you go to school with. And yet, I'd still have sleepovers with the friends from the neighborhood, make movies with my friends from the neighborhood. And, you know, the corner of - that I lived in was, like, this little Latin American country. It's one in which the nanny who lived with us and raised us, who also raised my father in Puerto Rico, never needed to learn English. All of the business owners in and around our block all spoke Spanish.

And yet I'd go to school, and I'd be at my friends' houses on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, and I'd be the one translating to the nanny who spoke Spanish. So it's interesting to become a Latino cultural ambassador when you're 7, you know what I mean? (Laughter) So I had that experience as well. So, you know, we changed depending on the room we're in. I'm talking quieter because I'm talking to Terry Gross.

GROSS: (Laughter) So you obviously, you know, love rap and hip-hop. What were the first recordings that made a big impression - the first rap recordings that made a big impression on you?

MIRANDA: I have several. I remember my sister bringing home The Fat Boys when I was really little and also taking me to the first hip-hop movies. I remember going to see "Beat Street" and going to see "Breakin'" as a really little kid being sort of dragged along by my older sister. My sister is as responsible for anyone for giving me good taste in music. I remember stealing her copy of Black Sheep's "A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing" and learning (rapping) engine, engine No. 9 on the New York transit line.

I think that's probably the first rap song I really worked hard to memorize in sixth grade. But then also, you know, Naughty By Nature and Queen Latifah - the music you love when you're a teenager is always going to be the most important to you. And I find that it's all over the score of "Hamilton." The quotes are Biggie quotes. They're a big pun, and these are all New York East Coast '90s rappers. And that's when I was a teenager.

GROSS: So I'm going to put you on the spot and ask you to do one the first rhymes that you remember writing that you still remember today.

MIRANDA: (Rapping) Well, hello, my name is Lin. But if you're dyslexic, call me Nil. My rhymes are going to kill, so I suggest you write your will and leave your [expletive] to me. I am the epitome of coolness, can't be rid of me because I will be hitting the mic tonight.

GROSS: (Laughter).

MIRANDA: Notice my voice went up about two octaves. It's because at that time, I was listening to nothing but the Pharcyde. And my favorite rapper in the Pharcyde had that (rapping in high-pitched voice) well, there she goes again, the dopest Ethiopian, and now the world around me - it was that cadence, and I think my rapper voice is still influenced by Pharcyde. But that is - those lines were a rhyme I wrote in ninth grade that I showed to friends. And they were like, all right, stick to your day job (laughter).

GROSS: Oh, come on. That was pretty good. That was funny (laughter).


GROSS: So your father has or had a political consulting company. He worked with New York City Mayor Ed Koch.

MIRANDA: He has.

GROSS: He still has it - and advising him on Latino affairs. And you apparently wrote jingles when you were younger for this political consulting company that your father owns. How old were you when you started writing them? And please sing one for us.

MIRANDA: Well, jingles is misleading because it sounds like a, oh, how I wait to wake up in the morning. It's not - they're not like "I Like Ike." They - it's background music for commercials. I was basically cheap labor for my dad. He would say, I need 30 seconds of some jazz for a Sharpton spot that's going to be on WBLS. Or I need some bright salsa for a Fernando Ferrer campaign commercial. You know, I wrote music for Eliot Spitzer before we knew what we knew...

GROSS: (Laughter).

MIRANDA: ...When he was running for governor. And whatever Democrat was running or my dad was working with, I was writing the campaign music. I liked writing the negative ads more than the - because it's more minor chords. You just kind of hit the synthesizer (imitating synthesizer). Politician X voted against da da da (ph), and then it ends with bright salsa - (imitating salsa music). Vote politician Y.

GROSS: So you know how you were talking about the compartmentalized you, the you you were when you were at home and in your Latino neighborhood and the you you were at school when your friends were white and not Latino and that you learned, finally, to bring all those parts together? Was the same kind of compartmentalization happening for you musically? You loved Broadway shows, and you loved hip-hop.

MIRANDA: That's a fantastic question.

GROSS: And it's maybe hard to find people who, when they're teens, love both.

MIRANDA: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. And honestly, what a fantastic question because theater is really the thing that began to break that divide for me. My senior year in high school, I was the director of the school musical, and I picked "West Side Story," painfully aware that there were not enough Latino kids to play all the Sharks in "West Side Story" at Hunter or at least audition. And so what that became for me was actually this kind of weird way of bringing my culture to school. I remember being knocked out when I first saw the movie in sixth grade that there's actually a musical number in the canon about whether you should stay in Puerto Rico and live in the United States.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

MIRANDA: You know, that's amazing when you're 12, and you grow up in New York and your family's all from this other island - to have that conversation happening in front of you in an iconic musical. And so I had my white and Asian Sharks. And I brought my dad in, and he did dialect coaching. You know, while they're singing "America," I want the things they're yelling while they're cheering each other on to be accurate. I want the accents to be accurate.

BIANCULLI: Our guest is Lin-Manuel Miranda, original star of the Broadway musical "Hamilton," who wrote the show's music, lyrics and book. He spoke with Terry Gross in 2017. And after a break, we'll continue their conversation. We'll also hear another of our staff's picks for interviews of the decade by revisiting Terry's 2011 interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of "The Book Of Mormon." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVEED DIGGS: (As Lafayette, singing) Monsieur Hamilton...

MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Monsieur Lafayette...

DIGGS: (As Lafayette, singing) In command where you belong.

MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) How you say no sweat? We're finally on the field. We've had quite a run.

DIGGS: (As Lafayette) Immigrants.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA AND DAVEED DIGGS: (As Hamilton and Lafayette) We get the job done.

MIRANDA: (As Hamilton) So what happens if we win?

DIGGS: (As Lafayette, singing) I go back to France. I bring freedom to my people if I'm given the chance.

MIRANDA: (As Hamilton) We'll be with you when you do.

DIGGS: (As Lafayette) Go. Lead your men.

MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) I'll see you on the other side.

DIGGS: (As Lafayette, singing) 'Til we meet again. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) I am not throwin' away my shot. I am not throwin' away my shot. Hey yo, I'm just like my country. I'm young, scrappy and hungry. And I'm not throwin' away my shot. I am not throwin' away my shot.

MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, singing) Til' the world turns upside down.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Till the world turns upside down.

MIRANDA: (As Hamilton, rapping) I imagine death so much, it feels more like a memory. This is where it gets me - on my feet, the enemy ahead of me. If this is the end of me, at least I have a friend with me, weapon in my hand, a command and my men with me. Then I remember my Eliza's expecting me. Not only that - my Eliza's expecting. We got to go, got to get the job done...

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross back with more of Terry's 2017 interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of "Hamilton." The Broadway hip-hop musical about the Founding Fathers won 11 Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for drama. This interview is one of our staff picks for interview of the decade.

GROSS: So I have to ask you about Stephen Sondheim because you have a very interesting history with him. First of all, when you were directing "West Side Story" in high school, he came to your class because he was the friend of the father of one of the students in the cast and...

MIRANDA: Yes. He was...

GROSS: ...Spoke to you. So you got...

MIRANDA: Yeah. He's - John Weidman's daughter...


MIRANDA: ...Went to our school.

GROSS: He wrote the book for "Assassins" and "Pacific Overtures."

MIRANDA: "Pacific Overtures," yes.

GROSS: Yeah. OK, so there's that. So you get to meet him in high school, and then you get to write the Spanish lyrics for the Spanish production of "West Side Story."


GROSS: And then you got to be in a production of "Merrily We Roll Along," which is a great Sondheim musical that always needs to be revived because the original Broadway run was so very short. And so this was a City Center - a New York City Center Encores! production. In fact, I want to play just a little bit of you in that, which...

MIRANDA: Oh, great.

GROSS: Encores! was gracious enough to - I saw you in this production. So you're playing a lyricist who works with a composer, but the composer has kind of, like, sold out. And, you know, he's just doing, like, commercial work, and the lyricist now has come to think of the composer - instead of just being his friend and collaborator Franklin Shepard, he thinks of him now as, like, Franklin Shepard, Inc. because he's...


GROSS: ...So much about, like, deals and making money. In this scene, like, you're getting interviewed on TV. You're just kind of pretty bitter about the whole collaboration with this composer.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Now, how do you two work together?

COLIN DONNELL: (As Frank Shepard) Oh, we work...

MIRANDA: (As Charley) Oh, may I answer that?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Please.

MIRANDA: (As Charley) How do we work together? Sure. He goes...


MIRANDA: (As Charley) And I go...


MIRANDA: (As Charley, singing) And soon we're humming along, and that's called writing a song. Then he goes...


MIRANDA: (As Charley, singing) And I go...


MIRANDA: (As Charley) And the phone goes d-d-d-d-ring (ph). And he goes, mutter, mutter, mutter, mutter. Yes, Jerome. Mutter - no, Jerome. Mutter, mutter, mutter, mutter - that's his lawyer, Jerome. Mutter, mutter, mutter, mutter, mutter - do it, Jerome - click. Sorry, Charley.


MIRANDA: (As Charley, singing) So I go...


MIRANDA: (As Charley, singing) And he goes...


MIRANDA: (As Charley, singing) And I go...


MIRANDA: (As Charley, singing) And soon we're tapping away.


MIRANDA: (As Charley) Sorry, Charley.


MIRANDA: (As Charley) It's the secretary...


MIRANDA: (As Charley) ...On the intercom. Yes, Miss Bzzz? It's a messenger. Thanks, Miss Bzzz. Will you tell him to wait? Will you order the car? Will you call up the bank? Will you wire the coast? Will you - d-d-d-d-ring (ph). Sorry, Charley. Mutter, mutter, mutter, mutter - sell the stock. Mutter - buy the rights. Mutter, mutter, mutter, mutter, mutter...


MIRANDA: (As Charley) Let me put you on hold.


MIRANDA: (As Charley) Yes, Miss Bzzz? It's the interview. Thanks, Miss Bzzz. Will you tell him to wait? Will you wire the car? Will you order the coast? Will you send up the bank?

(Singing) And the telephones blink, and the stocks get sold. And the rest of us, he keeps on hold. And he's into making movies, and he's now a corporation, right? So I play at home with my wife and kids, and I wait to hear the movie bids. And I've got a little sailboat, and I'm into meditation, right? He flies off to California. I discuss him with my shrink. That's the story of the way we work, me and Franklin Shepard, Inc.

(Laughter) I'm surprised at how much I like this.

GROSS: OK. That's my guest Lin-Manuel Miranda. You're so much fun in that, and I really think doing hip-hop rhymes is great preparation for that lyric.

MIRANDA: Absolutely it is.

GROSS: For singing that, yeah. And Sondheim has written so many - he's just, like, the most brilliant lyricist. But what are some of the things you feel you learned either from talking with Sondheim - because I know he also gave you feedback on "Hamilton" before you actually put it on stage. So what are things you've learned from actually talking to him or just from, like, getting intimately acquainted with his work?

MIRANDA: The thing he always sort of stressed was variety, variety, variety, variety, variety. When you're dealing with a constant rhythm, no matter how great your lyrics are, if you don't switch it up, people's heads are going to start bobbing, and they're going to stop listening to what you're saying. So consistently keep the ear fresh, and keep the audience surprised. And, you know, that was his sort of watchword throughout the writing of "Hamilton."

GROSS: The Sondheim song that's closest to comic rap is, in my opinion, "Not Getting Married," which is done...

MIRANDA: Is everybody here? Because if everybody's here, I'd like to thank you all for coming to the wedding.

GROSS: Yeah. Do more. Do more.

MIRANDA: I'd appreciate your going even more. I mean, you must have lots of better things to do. And not a word of it to Paul. Remember Paul - you know, the man I'm going to marry? But I'm not because I'd never ruin anyone as wonderful as he is. Thank you all for the gifts and the flowers. Thanks, you all, for the card and the showers. Don't tell Paul, but I'm not getting married today.

GROSS: Anyone who could do that song has an incredible tongue (laughter).

MIRANDA: Absolutely.

GROSS: It's so tricky. It's so fast. And the words are so just kind of, like, dense and funny and rhyme-y (ph). And so have you thought about that song a lot in terms of intricate rhyme schemes and what the...

MIRANDA: Well, I think about...

GROSS: ...Human voice is capable of without totally tripping up?

MIRANDA: Honestly, I think about that song more when people ask me, how did you think rap was going to work on Broadway? And I go, nothing in my show is faster than "Getting Married Today" in "Company."

GROSS: Yeah.

MIRANDA: So I don't know what you're talking about. There's so much precedent for the work in both quote-unquote "hip-hop" and not in terms of patter for the stage. But, you know, what's amazing about "Getting Married Today" is it's also a masterclass in making a lyric easy. There are consonants on which you waste air. H - there's no H's in that because if you say huh (ph), you've lost half the air in your lungs. So it's very T's and P's.

Thank you all. Is everybody here? Because if everybody's here, I'd like to thank you all for coming to the wedding.

It's more about breath control than being - it's not a tongue twister. It's very consciously not a tongue twister. It's about being able to say it in one continuous breath and getting out of the way and choosing words that do not require any extra air or any extra tongue or jaw work. So it's actually not about trying to make it hard. It's about making it easy.

GROSS: So did you learn that intuitively, or did Sondheim tell you that that was his intention - to stay away from as many H's as possible and to keep it to things that could easily be said?

MIRANDA: I think I read about that in a conversation he had at some point, but I also knew that intuitively because of the hip-hop artists I liked who rapped fast. You know, they're not trying to make something that's hard for them to perform every night. They're trying to make something that sounds impressive and is a joy to deliver. Trying to think of, like, a really specific early '90s example - Queen Latifah. (Rapping) Snatch your stature. You're broken - looks more like a fracture. Catch that rapper. Latifah will be back to crush you.

That's Queen Latifah in 1992, and it's fast. There's Queen Latifah's "U.N.I.T.Y." She goes, (rapping) there's plenty of people out there with triggers ready to pull it. Why you trying to jump in front of the bullet, young lady?

No H's - so you learn intuitively that, like, the writer is trying to make something that flows easily off the tongue.

GROSS: So did the writer of "Alexander Hamilton" (ph) try to avoid H's in writing the lyrics? (Laughter).

MIRANDA: Well, you will observe that "Hamilton" is not in any of the fast rapping that happens on stage, right? It's - George Washington goes, Hamilton, and then Jefferson is the one who goes, so he knows what to do in a trench, ingenuitive (ph) and fluent in French, I mean - so we're not hampering anyone with Hamilton.

GROSS: (Laughter) Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda, it's just been wonderful to talk with you. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you so very much.

MIRANDA: Likewise. The joy is mine.

GROSS: Lin-Manuel Miranda is the creator and original star of the hit musical "Hamilton." Terry Gross interviewed him in 2017. Next up, we'll hear from the writers of "The Book Of Mormon," another hit musical of the decade, as our staff picks of favorite interviews from the decade continues. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.