Ask Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Hamilton—Broadway's hit musical about Colonial bad boy Alexander Hamilton, a.k.a. "the best-looking guy on our money"—who he most wants to impress, and his answer might surprise you. It's not the show's big-name fans like Bill Clinton or Julia Roberts, but high school kids. "They're incapable of lying!" says Miranda, 35. "So when there's a quiet moment and they're silent, you know you've got something special."

Miranda finds teenagers' approval especially gratifying because, he says, "I was that theater-obsessed kid." As a budding actor and composer at New York City's Hunter College High School, he performed in A Chorus Line, West Side Story, Godspell, and The Pirates of Penzance. He's since racked up fans (and awards) by blending his musical background with hip-hop tracks and racially diverse casts, beginning with In the Heights, his 2008 Tony- and Grammy-winning debut. With Hamilton, he tells the Founding Father's story in rap form, starting with his immigration from the West Indies and concluding with his famous death by duel. The unconventional history lesson draws academics, theater lovers, and even tenth graders into a surprisingly personal, emotional story. "I think people expect Hamilton to be witty and high-energy," the composer says, "but I don't think they're prepared for how moving it is."

When Miranda—who also writes songs for Sesame Street and has appeared on sitcoms like Modern Family—isn't dropping revolutionary rhymes, he's spending time with his 9-month-old son, who already has an ear for music. Says Miranda, "You put him in front of a piano, and he will not stop banging until you take him away." Like father, like son.


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