The accolades for his work are taking on the magnitude of a World Series sweep. A Grammy for best musical theater album is already on his shelf, as is the Edward M. Kennedy Prize for historical drama. The MacArthur Foundation has bestowed on him one of its "genius" grants, and first lady Michelle Obama — who's twice seen the show, about the turbulent life of Alexander Hamilton — caused jaws to drop when she described it during a recent visit by Miranda to the White House as "the best piece of art in any form I have ever seen in my life."
This very week has accelerated Miranda's trophy harvest. On Monday, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to him, and then on Thursday he landed on the cover of Time magazine as one of The 100 Most Influential People. (For the record, I chaired the Pulitzer jury this year that had the job of whittling the entries to three finalists, "Hamilton" being one of them.)
And the encomiums are likely to keep coming. The Tony Awards ceremony in June may well be another Miranda bonanza, during which he could become the first person ever to earn the Tonys for best book, best score and best actor in a musical, even as the show itself looks to have a lock on the statuette for best original musical. (Let's hope the Tony swag bag includes a suitcase.) Since he's already shared an Emmy Award (with composer Tom Kitt) for songs written for a previous Tony broadcast, he could be — as one wit on Twitter suggested — just an Oscar away from a MacEGOT.
The geyser of praise makes some people who haven't seen it uneasy. Can the show really be that good? Yes, indeed, it is. But it's important to note that "Hamilton" has its critics, too, some of whom think the storytelling is repetitive, or take issue with its cool-cat portraits of the Founding Fathers, or believe Hamilton's career-long rival, Aaron Burr, gets a theatrical bum rap. In any event, that "Hamilton" is generating this level of informed contentiousness is in actuality another feather in its cap. Because more than any stage production in memory, "Hamilton" is showing signs that it can compete for a seat at the national cultural dinner table. When was the last time, for instance, that a number from a Broadway show was performed on the Grammys? Or that a musical could persuade a cabinet member to change course on whose likeness should be on a piece of American currency? Miranda is even cropping up as himself in celebrity cameos, as he did on the premiere episode of the new season of "Inside Amy Schumer" on Comedy Central.
Miranda's extraordinary success is a boon to an insecure industry hungry for heroes. Theater has long been receding as a popular art form; while it's a tourist magnet in New York, elsewhere it's become a fairly esoteric habit for a relatively small though devoted elite. Although a musical occasionally is turned into a big-deal movie, as in the case of "Chicago," and playwrights are regularly recruited for television drama, an individual piece of theater has a very difficult time entering the cultural conversation. Once upon a time, show tunes became top-40 tunes, but theater music no longer sets the trends. It tends now to appropriate musical styles popularized by contemporary recording artists. "Hamilton" itself owes a huge debt to hip-hop. Still, Miranda manages imaginatively to mold the distinctive beat patterns of rap to such an unlikely narrative that the work feels revelatory and, aptly enough, revolutionary.
So just like that, theater is on the lips of people who ordinarily might be loath to let the word escape theirs. The white-hot "Hamilton" has conferred on Broadway a coolness it rarely acquires. And its ambassador of cool, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is justifiably reaping the rewards.