Lin-Manuel Miranda Admits Movie Musicals Are Really Weird, But Knows How To Make It Work [Exclusive]

Lin-Manuel Miranda has no good reason to be nervous about writing songs for a Disney movie, but he is. For starters, this isn't his first go-round with the House of Mouse — the actor-playwright previously penned songs for the Polynesian-focused tale "Moana" in 2016, earning him a best original song Oscar nomination for "How Far I'll Go." Two years later, Miranda would play the chimney-sweeping Jack in the musical sequel "Mary Poppins Returns," and in 2020 the Disney+ streaming service would pick up the live stage recording of pop culture hijacker "Hamilton," for which Miranda wrote the script, lyrics, and musical compositions. 

This year, the jack-of-all-trades has returned to tag-team with Disney for "Encanto," writing seven songs for the story centered on a magical Colombian family. Because Miranda's M.O. is to juggle several plates at once, he has also made his directorial debut this year with "Tick, Tick...BOOM!," a feature adaptation of Jonathan Larson's autobiographical musical.

/Film's Hoai-Tran Bui got a chance to chat with Miranda about the peaks and pitfalls of songwriting, musicals, and big-screen adaptations. Therein, he calls the stage-to-screen translation "the hardest thing you can do" due to audience expectations — how do you make characters in realistic situations suddenly and believably break out into a song-and-dance number? Miranda explains:

"You have to find a way in that makes it feel organic and real. And you have to set up the rules and you have to stick to them and the best filmmakers really know how to do that. I'm thinking of ['Cabaret' director] Bob Fosse, I'm thinking of Rob Marshall ['Chicago,' 'Into the Woods']. I think of John Chu's incredible work on ["In the Heights."] I think the way he set up that musical world with the percussion of the neighborhood is so incredible."

Plenty of Material To Choose From

So if it's so easy to screw up and so hard to effectively execute, then where's the fun in bringing the work of someone like American composer Jonathan Larson to movie theater audiences? Miranda finds a happy medium.

"I mean, there's several issues, it's you're taking a two-act thing and turning it into a three-act structure. For me, the fun of "Tick, Tick...Boom!" is that there is no definitive version. Jonathan Larson used to perform it as a rock monologue in 1990 and I have all of the different drafts of just that. Then there was a posthumous off-Broadway version that was designed for three actors. And that's the version I saw in my senior year in college that blew my mind. And so, in making the film we really kind of opened up all the drafts and said what can we take from all of this that makes for the best movie? It can't be what's on stage, there is no definitive onstage version. I think we had a real advantage in "Tick, Tick...Boom!" because we had a lot of working drafts to pick and choose for our movie."

"Tick, Tick... Boom!" is currently streaming on Netflix. "Encanto" opens in theaters on November 24, 2021.