So what’s it been like to spend five years on the Hamilbeat?
I sensed right from the start that this musical, with its cast made up mostly of actors of color and its score influenced by hip-hop and pop music, was going to be a huge story. I remember being determined, that summer, to land an article about the production on the front page, convinced that the paper needed to make a big early statement about the show as a game-changing reflection on our culture, our politics and our history. Ultimately, the Page 1 gods agreed. I was traveling in Spain when it happened; I felt so affirmed that I didn’t mind the time-zone-busting copy desk questions.
A feature that followed about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical upbringing was particularly fun to report — as we explored the Venn diagram in which show tunes and hip-hop overlap, he started playing random songs from his iTunes library and riffing about what each one meant to him. (He insisted I keep one track off the record: It was a Polynesian song, part of his secret research for “Moana.”)
But for me, the moment that really illustrated Miranda’s passion for the musical songbook came on the afternoon I joined him to watch “Hamilton” from a hidden bandstand at the Public (his alternate played the lead role while Miranda looked for weaknesses he could address before the Broadway transfer). He asked why I was wearing a tie — he was in a hoodie — and when I explained that after “Hamilton” I was going to the opening of “Fun Home,” he burst, from memory, into a passage from “Ring of Keys,” the show’s yearning anthem, beautiful but at that point little-known.
I’ve seen the show about eight times, and over the years I’ve taken deep dives into its finances and have written about its prices and its profits and its people. There’s been a persistent, although rarely discussed, tension over how much coverage is too much — the theater desk periodically experiences “Hamilton” fatigue, and producers of other shows occasionally criticize what they see as an overemphasis on the show. But readers seem to love “Hamilton” stories, and that means assigning editors — and not just those in the culture section — do too.
The story I waited longest for was about Miranda’s relationship to Puerto Rico, where his parents grew up and where he spent his childhood summers. The island’s influence on his art had always struck me as significant and underexplored. I knew the best way to tell that story would be to see Puerto Rico through his eyes, at least as much as a journalist can, and when he announced that he was bringing “Hamilton” to San Juan, I had my peg. I asked to meet him there, and in fall 2018 he agreed; a devastating hurricane and campus unrest made the story more complex than either he or I could have anticipated, and I’m glad we did it.