Lin Manuel Miranda has rapped at the White House, performed at the Grammys, and been awarded a MacArthur genius grant. His musical Hamilton is one of the most admired (and sold-out) shows ever on Broadway. So it wasn’t exactly a stretch that the show won the Pulitzer Prize for drama yesterday.
But it was another landmark for the show—since only nine musicals have won the award in the last hundred years.
“It is a tremendous honor to even be considered for this very prestigious award…so to win today for Hamilton is beyond my wildest dreams,” said a statement from Miranda, who is the composer, lyricist and star.
In his tweets, he was slightly less formal and considerably more excited. “PULITZER?!” he tweeted. And then perhaps thinking about what it was like to be a creative genius growing up in a tough neighborhood, “Gets in time machine, grabs 12 year old me by the face. IT GETS SO GOOD KID JUST HANG IN THERE.”
Unlike the Tonys, which often go to shows that are simply entertaining, the Pultizer boards seem to look for higher purpose in the arts and letters categories. The board hailed Hamilton as “a landmark American musical about the gifted and self-destructive founding father whose story becomes both contemporary and irresistible.”
Musicals that win the Pulitzer are often politically provocative—presenting a serious issue with a tune behind it.
Like Hamilton, both A Chorus Line and Rent (winners in 1976 and 1998) were game changers in the musical genre, using original musical styles to explore compelling topics.
Next To Normal won in 2010—a controversial call since the jury chose three different finalists (all plays) and the Pulitzer board overruled them. That musical, too, had a political bent—looking at how mental illness affects a family.
When South Pacific won in 1950, its exploration of racial prejudice (and the famous song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”) was probably more compelling to the Pulitzer board than Mary Martin taking a shower onstage to wash that man right out of her hair.
Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park with George, which won the Pulitzer in 1985, explored the question of how you can be an original, creative spirit in a commercial world. The lyrics had such emotional depth and complexity that it would have been Pulitzer-worthy even without Sondheim’s extraordinary music.
The Pulitzer board isn’t always right. Fun Home, the terrific musical adaptation about a lesbian girl growing up in a funeral home with her closeted dad, was a finalist in 2014 but lost to the play The Flick by Annie Baker.
That play was so polarizing that the artistic director of the off-Broadway theater that first presented it sent a letter of “community engagement” (it was not an apology, he insisted) to subscribers.
Hamilton shows the founding fathers as the rebellious immigrants that they were—and its use of a multiracial cast and mixed musical styles, including rap, gives the show a power and intensity that’s rare on Broadway (or anywhere else).
Noting that the Pulitzer Prizes are given through a Columbia University board, Miranda joked to a reporter for the Associated Press that “Columbia is Hamilton’s alma mater so I think that gave me a home-court advantage. But it's extraordinary to be recognized in this way.”
Miranda has already won a Grammy for Hamilton and is sure to be rolling in Tonys come June. He may be well on his way to the rarely achieved EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony).
Miranda’s first musical In the Heights was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2009, and he spent years developing Hamilton in workshop and at the Public Theater in New York before the transfer to Broadway.
“This award is for everyone who has been a part of Hamilton’s six plus year journey,” Miranda said yesterday of the Pulitzer. “Look at where we are. Look at where we started.”
And you still can’t get tickets.