How Annie Leibovitz captured Lin-Manuel Miranda’s vision

In Portraits 2005–2016, Leibovitz photographs the Hamilton star who updated the 18th century
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Lin-Manuel Miranda, New York City, 2015 by Annie Leibovitz, © Annie Leibovitz
Lin-Manuel Miranda, New York City, 2015 by Annie Leibovitz, © Annie Leibovitz

Why should the composer of a Broadway musical – and a period drama at that, set in the 18th century – take up space in Annie Leibovitz's new collection of portraits?

Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016 features today’s most influential figures, from Kanye West to Barack Obama; Lady Gaga to Sheryl Sandberg. Musical theatre, though still popular, hasn’t had a sustained, significant influence on the kind of pop that leaks from millions of headphones for decades. Period dramas, meanwhile, usually can’t hark back much beyond the 1960s before they lose an audience. So why does Lin-Manuel Miranda, in his lace shirt and waistcoat, with a far-off look in his eye, merit inclusion in Leibovitz’s important collection of contemporary portraits?

Because Miranda’s musical, Hamilton, which opened on Broadway in 2015, showed how, in the hands of a skilled artist, history can engage huge audiences in an utterly up-to-date manner. The show tells the story of America’s “Founding Father without a father,” Alexander Hamilton. Born out of wedlock in the West Indies, Hamilton fought in the War of Independence, served as an aide to George Washington, and shaped the US Constitution, only to die in a duel before the age of 50.

 

Annie Leibovitz, 2012. Photograph © Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz, 2012. Photograph © Annie Leibovitz

Miranda's skills lay partly in transferring that dramatic biography into a series of raps and songs that had more in common with Drake and Beyoncé’s back catalogues, rather than anything Rodgers and Hammerstein ever came up with. Miranda wrote the music, lyrics and story, creating a show that mainly described the lives of white historical figures, yet was made for a racially diverse cast.

The production has, of course, been an incredible success, earning the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. It was nominated for a record-setting 16 Tony Awards, of which it won 11, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book.

Amidst all this, it delivered a gentle history lesson to us all, while also proving that the immigrant tale remains an evergreen, protean story for US citizens of all races, so long as you can find a new way to tell it (and they can find a ticket).

 

Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016

 


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