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

This week, we're listening back to some favorite Fresh Air interviews from the past decade. Terry Gross spoke to Miranda in 2017 about how his "mixed tape" musical came together.

31:51

Other segments from the episode on January 3, 2017

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 27, 2019: Interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda; Interview with Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Transcript

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

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

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Sure.

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."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SHOT")

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...

MIRANDA: Yes.

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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.

(LAUGHTER)

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.

(APPLAUSE)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "TACOBEL CANON")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

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).

MIRANDA: Yeah.

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YORKTOWN (THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN)")

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...

GROSS: Oh.

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."

MIRANDA: Right.

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...

MIRANDA: Right.

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

MIRANDA: (As Charley) Sorry, Charley.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

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)

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Continuing with our staff picks of favorite interviews of the decade is a conversation from 2011 with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of TV's "South Park" and the co-creators with Robert Lopez of "Avenue Q" of the hit musical "The Book Of Mormon," which won nine Tony Awards, including best musical.

If you know anything about "South Park," you would expect that a musical written by Parker and Stone would be irreverent, and you'd be right. But it's also got heart. The story is about two young Mormons who are sent on their first mission to Uganda, where they learn Africa is not like "The Lion King." Let's start with the opening song, set at a mission training center in Salt Lake City where young Mormons are learning door-to-door missionary technique.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Elder Price, singing) Hello. My name is Elder Price, and I would like to share with you the most amazing book.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Elder Grant, singing) Hello. My name is Elder Grant. It's a book about America a long, long time ago.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Elder Price, singing) It has so many awesome parts. You simply won't believe how much this book can change your life.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green, singing) Hello. My name is Elder Green. I would like to share with you this book of Jesus Christ.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Elder Young, singing) Hello. My name is Elder Young. Did you know that Jesus lived here in the U.S.A.?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Elder Grant, singing) You can read all about it now in this nifty book. It's free. No, you don't have to pay.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Elder Young) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As Elder Smith, singing) Hello. My name is Elder Smith. And can I leave this book with you to just peruse?

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As Elder Brown) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As Elder Harris) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As Elder Smith, singing) I'll just leave it here. It has a lot of information you can really use.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Elder Price, singing) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As Elder Harris) Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Elder Price, singing) My name is...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green, singing) Jesus Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Elder Grant, singing) You have a lovely home.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #8: (As Elder Cross) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As Elder Young) It's an amazing book.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As Elder Smith) Bonjour.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As Elder White, singing) Hola. Me llamo Elder White.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Elder Grant) Are these your kids?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green, singing) This book gives you the secret to eternal life.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As Elder Smith) Sound good?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Eternal life...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green) With Jesus Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) ...Is super fun.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As Elder Brown) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) And if you let us in, we'll show you how it can be done.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Elder Grant) No thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green) You sure?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Elder Grant) Oh, well.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green) That's fine.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Elder Grant) Goodbye.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green) Have fun in hell.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Hey now. You simply won't believe how much this book will change your life. This book will change your life. This book will change your life. This book will change your life.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As Elder Cunningham) Hello. Would you like to change religions? I have a free book written by Jesus.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #11: (As character) No, no, Elder Cunningham. That's not how we do it. You're making things up again. Just stick to the approved dialogue. Elders, show him.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As Elder Cunningham) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) My name is...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As Elder Cunningham) Elder Cunningham.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) And we would like to share with you this book of Jesus Christ.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Elder Price) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Elder Green) Ding dong.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As Elder White) Hi-ho (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As Elder Smith) Just take this book.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As Elder Harris) It's free.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As Elder Brown) For you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As Elder Harris) For me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) You see? You simply won't believe how much this book will change your life - hello. This book will change your life - hello. So you won't burn in...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As Elder White, singing) Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) You're going to die someday. But if you read this book, you'll see that there's another way. Hello. Hello.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Trey Parker, Matt Stone - welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on "The Book Of Mormon."

MATT STONE: Thanks.

TREY PARKER: Cool. Thank you.

GROSS: So did Mormons come to your door, and did your family let them in when you were growing up?

STONE: They never came to my door, I don't think. I don't know if my dad would have let them in, either. (Laughter) But...

PARKER: Yeah, we were - we live in - we grew up in Colorado. So we - actually, we were around a lot of Mormons, and we went to school with Mormons and things like that. But I think that the first time I actually saw them come to the door was in college, actually. I had some Mormons come to where I was staying in college. Since then, we've had a few, and we always try to - I always try to start a kind of a dialogue with them. But you learn pretty quickly that they are trained impeccably to be able to handle anything.

STONE: But then, you know, with "Hello," the idea was that we would - you'd reveal that you're at the missionary training center, which is in Provo, Utah, which is where they get - they learn all their language skills, and they learn their - you know, what to do when you do get invited into a house. And we found out later, in the missionary training center, they actually have, like, prop living rooms, like, fake living rooms with actors that - (laughter) you know, it's, like, one of your tests is to go and, like, go into this fake living room and sit down and do your spiel, and you have to deal with this in a real situation. It's like driving...

PARKER: It's like the Holodeck. It's like the Holodeck on "Star Trek."

STONE: It's like a driving simulator. Yeah.

GROSS: So I don't want people to get the wrong idea about how you present Mormonism in your show because you kind of challenge the credibility of this - the literal credibility of the story of "The Book Of Mormon." But you love your characters, and you think that eventually they do do good in the world (laughter), not in a way that they expected to. But you're not about being, like, really, kind of cynical in this.

PARKER: Yeah, I know, and I really - what I grew up loving Broadway for was the fact that it - at least, you know, in all these classics, you know, they weren't cynical. They were very optimistic, and it offered this kind of - they always ended with a big, happy number, and everything was OK.

GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.

PARKER: And as cheesy as that can seem, I loved it, you know. And that's - you know, I don't think anyone would want to go see a two-hour-long Mormon bashing, and that's not - we wouldn't want to see that, either. It's just not - obviously, you have to have characters that you love. And even if you, in certain things, have characters that you love to hate, that's fine. But, you know, everyone wants to see a little piece of themselves up there, and that's what makes a musical - draws people in.

And so, you know, like we were saying about the whole thing about this - even though this is about a devout Mormon getting put with someone and getting shot around the world and trying to be very Mormon. People can relate to just that feeling of being in high school and getting out and thinking, OK, well, now I'm ready to just go tell everyone what's up and make my mark in the world. And it's going to be really awesome. And then you get slapped back down to reality, you know. And I think that everyone can relate to that part of it.

And also, the reason we knew it would work great with Bobby right away was because we all shared this thing where it's like we love the goofiness of Mormon stories. We loved the - you know, some of them were so incredulous. And yet we really liked most - almost all the Mormons we'd ever met.

GROSS: So have Mormons in the audience enjoyed the musical? Do you know? Have you gotten feedback?

PARKER: It's really funny. We can actually - when we were there for previews and we were there that whole month where we go and watch it every single night and try to change it, you could hear the pockets of Mormons. You could hear where they work because there's some certain things in the show that are very specifically Mormon, things you - either are at least ex-Mormons.

You know, like, you could hear these people - this little group of people laugh, and no one else really got the joke. But it - and it would just be some reference to something that's very Mormon. And, you know, obviously it's a select group of Mormons that are - kind of come to this show, have kind of embraced it.

GROSS: And the official church response?

STONE: The official church response was something along the lines of "The Book Of Mormon" the musical might entertain you for a night, but the Book of Mormon - the book, as scripture, will - it could change - will change your life through Jesus or something like that.

PARKER: Yeah, which is a great response.

STONE: Which we actually completely agree with (laughter). It's totally a very big-hearted American response. It's kind of like - the Mormon Church's response to this musical is almost like our QED at the end of it. It's like, see, we told you Mormons are - that's cool - that's a cool American response to, like, a ribbing, you know, a big musical that's done in their name.

So it just - that was like the - we're like, there, see? That's what we were talking about. Because before the church responded, a lot of, you know, people would ask us about, like, oh, are you afraid of what the church is going to say? And Trey and I were like, they're going to be cool. Trust us. They're going to be cool.

And people in New York are like, no, they're not. They're going to be, you know, mad at you guys. There are going to be protests. We're like, nope, they're going to be cool. And, I mean, I don't know if we totally knew, but we weren't that surprised by the church's response.

PARKER: We had faith in them.

STONE: Yes, we had faith.

BIANCULLI: We're listening to an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone from 2011. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2011 interview with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Their musical, "The Book Of Mormon," won nine Tony Awards. And their conversation with Terry is one of our staff picks of the decade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: OK, time for another song (laughter). So I want to play "Turn It Off," which is this great production number. And, you know, in a lot of musicals, there's that big, inspiring number where you're told to, like, you know, be yourself and think great thoughts whenever you're sad, like, put on a happy face, or if you fall down, pick yourself up and start all over again.

But this is called "Turn It Off" (laughter). And so, like, if you're feeling something unpleasant, just, like, turn it off. It's a song about repressing feelings. Tell us about writing this song and the kinds of songs that inspired this one.

PARKER: This was a little ditty. I wrote a first version of this basically because I just - we knew we had to have a big tap number. We've got a bunch of dudes in, you know, white shirts and ties. It's like, we've got to have a tap number.

But I just - this was a great example of a song that, like, I had just a little ditty for. There was just very repetitive - turn it off like a light switch, just go click, da-da-da- (ph). And I remember Bobby right away saying, yeah, it's cool, kind of runs in place, you know, kind of like was the same thing musically over and over and over. And this song expanded and expanded.

And then we all would sit in the room together and say, well, maybe it shouldn't just be - it was all just this stuff about gay thoughts and all those jokes. And they were great jokes, and it worked. But then we sat there going, well, what else? You know, maybe we should have other Mormons chime in on other things that aren't just gay thoughts but other things.

And we started writing the other verses. And then Bobby actually wrote the verse about the father - the abusive father. And then it grew and grew. And then Casey came in and turned it...

GROSS: Your co-director and choreographer.

PARKER: Yeah, the co-director and choreographer - and turned it from a little tap song into a giant tap song and added all this other stuff. And so it was just this great song that you watched going from this little ditty to this big broadway number, you know, kind of before your eyes.

GROSS: So let's hear it. This is "Turn It Off" from the new cast recording of "The Book Of Mormon," which was co-written by my guests Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the co-creators of South Park.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TURN IT OFF")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley) Turn it off like a light switch. Just go click. It's a cool little Mormon trick. We do it all the time. When you're feeling certain feelings that just don't seem right, treat those pesky feelings like a reading light - and turn them off like a lightswitch. Just go back. Really, what's so hard about that? Turn it off.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders) Turn it off.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley) When I was young, my dad would treat my mom real bad. Every time the Utah Jazz would lose, he started drinking and I started thinking, how am I going to keep my mom from getting abused? I'd see her all scared, and my soul was dying. My dad would say to me, now, don't you dare start crying. Turn it off.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders) Like a light switch. Just go flick. It's our nifty little Mormon trick.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley) Turn it off.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders) Turn - it - off.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley) My sister was a dancer, but she got cancer. The doctor said she still had two months more. I thought she had time, so I got in line for the new iPhone at the Apple store. She laid there dying with my father and mother. Her very last words were, where is my brother?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders, singing) Turn it off.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #13: (As Elder Thomas) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders, singing) Bid those sad feelings adieu.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #13: (As Elder Thomas, singing) The fear that I might get cancer too.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley) When I was in fifth grade, I had a friend, Steve Blade.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders, singing) Steve Blade.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley, singing) He and I were close as two friends could be.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders, singing) We could be close.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley, singing) One thing led to another, and soon I would discover...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders, singing) Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley, singing) I was having really strange feelings for Steve. I thought about us on a deserted island.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As Elders, singing) We're all alone.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley, singing) We'd swim naked in the sea, and then he'd try and - whoa. Turn it off like a light switch. There; it's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #11: (As character) Good for you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #12: (As Elder McKinley, singing) My hetero side just won. I'm all better now. Boys should be with girls. That's heavenly father's plan. So if you ever feel you'd rather be with a man, turn it off.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Elder Price) Well, Elder McKinley, I think it's OK that you're having gay thoughts.

GROSS: That's "Turn It Off" from the new cast recording of "The Book Of Mormon," and the show was co-written by my guests Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who also created "South Park." So every time I hear that song, I laugh because it's ironic, but it's also - it's so upbeat and so catchy and so - I don't know. The orchestra...

PARKER: Yeah. That song for me...

GROSS: Yeah.

PARKER: That song for me is funny because it's so happy, but it's about something that, like, we all...

GROSS: Exactly. It's about all these...

PARKER: We all know, and it's kind of...

GROSS: ...Tragic things.

PARKER: It's kind of the most tragic thing, yeah. And, I mean, not just for - you know, like, the character that sings it is played by Rory O'Malley, who just kills it in that song. He's amazing. It's about a missionary, you know, who's overseas and obviously gay, and, like, the church has just said, yeah, you're not. Just don't think about that - you know, which is, like, no solution at all.

And - but it's not even - even if you're just - they send these 19-year-old kids around the world even if, you know, they're just - they're sexual beings, you know? They're sexual animals. And they just say, yeah. Just turn that off. And there's just nothing in that, you know? At that point in the story when Price - they - now they've landed in Africa. They've seen some horrors. They're really questioning what the hell is going on. They go back to the mission. He says, wow. I'm having some confusing thoughts. And then this is the song that's given to them. So the song is not supposed to really help you, you know? He realizes it doesn't really get much - he doesn't get much out of it.

GROSS: Just one more thing - I think that "The Book Of Mormon" has something of the quality of "South Park" in the sense that "South Park" is just kind of stripped-down animation. It's down to the basics, and there's something so basic about the show. It's, like, great music, great performers, great orchestrations, really original concepts, but there's nothing fancy about the sets. It's just...

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: Like, it's...

STONE: It was a very conscious decision. The reason that we did that is because we did so many workshops in New York in the sort of three years leading up to it, and we would do these workshops which were no costumes, no lights - just in a big room with fluorescent lights and a - you know, 40 people sitting there. And it would kill. And we're just like, OK, all we can do now is ruin this, so let's add just enough to make it a beautiful Broadway show but not step on any toes.

GROSS: Well, it's been great to talk with you again. Congratulations on all the success you've been having with "The Book Of Mormon," and thank you so much for coming back to FRESH AIR.

STONE: Cool.

PARKER: Thank you.

STONE: Thanks. Thanks a lot.

BIANCULLI: Trey Parker and Matt Stone speaking to Terry Gross in 2011. Their interview with Terry was one of our staff picks for interviews of the decade.

On Monday's show, FRESH AIR is ending the decade with a holiday week series of interviews featuring staff picks from the decade. On our next edition, we'll hear from two beloved journalists whom we lost this decade, Anthony Bourdain and David Carr. Bourdain was a food writer, a chef and the host of several food TV shows. Carr was a respected and very readable media columnist for The New York Times. I hope you can join us.

One final note - since today's show was devoted to Broadway musicals, we'd like to acknowledge that Jerry Herman, the composer of "Hello, Dolly!" and "Mame," died yesterday at age 88. Here's a song from the original Broadway cast recording of "Mame" with Angela Lansbury singing one of Herman's many famous songs, "If He Walked Into My Life."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF HE WALKED INTO MY LIFE")

ANGELA LANSBURY: (As Mame, singing) Did he need a stronger hand? Did he need a lighter touch? Was I soft, or was I tough? Did I give enough? Did I give too much? At the moment when he needed me, did I ever turn away? Would I be there when he called if he walked into my life today? Were his days a little dull? Were his nights a little wild? Did I overstate my plan? Did I stress the man and forget the child? And there must have been a million things that my heart forgot to say. Would I think of one or two if he walked into my life today? Should I blame the times I pampered him or blame the times I bossed him? What a shame. I never really found the boy before I lost him.

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