PBS aired a special encore presentation of In The Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams on November 10. The documentary follows Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company In The Heights leading up to its 2008 Broadway opening. Now, almost 10 years later, Miranda's name is synonymous with his 2015 smash hit musical Hamilton, which has certainly cemented itself in the cultural zeitgeist. Not to mention Miranda himself has become one of our most celebrated artists, with accolades including being named one of TIME 100's "Most Influential People in the World," a Pulitzer Prize, three Tony Awards, two Grammys, an Emmy, a MacArthur Fellowship, and an Oscar nomination.
But his journey with Broadway all began with In The Heights, and as we relived the excitement and newness during PBS' re-airing, there were a few noticeable connections between In The Heights and Hamilton.
The Beginning of the Lin-Manuel Miranda-Thomas Kail-Andy Blankenbuehler-Alex Lacamoire Collaboration
Throughout the entire documentary we were given insider looks at discussions between the tight-knit creative team, but Thomas Kail commenting, “I want this to be a part of something…those pages…that chapter…I hope this is the beginning of something,” seemed to particularly resonate when you think of the four receiving Tony nominations for their work on In The Heights just a few months later, and again for their work on Hamilton.
Future HamFam Members
There have been plenty of In The Heights-Hamilton actor crossovers, including original In The Heights cast members Christopher Jackson, Javier Muñoz, Jon Rua, Joshua Henry, Karen Olivo, Mandy Gonzalez, Seth Stewart, and Stephanie Klemons. We caught glimpses of these now-stars during the documentary as new performers—of the young, scrappy, and hungry variety. Gonzalez said, “I’d love to be known as Mandy Gonzalez from In The Heights.” Her portrayal of Nina Rosario not only won her a Drama Desk Award, but would lead her to add smash hits like Wicked and Hamilton to her résumé, as well as a residency at Café Carlyle.
What They Did For Love
Priscilla Lopez, whose work in the original A Chorus Line production earned her a Tony nomination in 1976, took the stage in In The Heights as Nina Rosario’s mom, Camila. The documentary covered Lopez receiving a Sardi’s caricature shortly after In The Heights’ opening, and we got to hear her maternal words of wisdom to the cast. She mentioned, “I’m looking at them and they’re just about the age I was when I did A Chorus Line, and I remember that total excitement.” Lopez would reunite with several members of her In The Heights family when the cast of Hamilton paid tribute to A Chorus Line for its 40th anniversary in 2016 at The Public Theater—where both A Chorus Line and Hamilton began.
Richard Rodgers Theatre
Speaking of theatre roots, the documentary gave us a rare look at stripped-down Richard Rodgers theatre before it transformed into Washington Heights as In The Heights signage appeared on the marquee. Seven years later, Hamilton’s marquee would be lit at the very same theater.
The Enticement of New York City
Seth Stewart (In The Heights’ Graffiti Pete and Hamilton’s Lafayette/Jefferson) shared his history with dance, and how he often had assumptions and stereotypes thrown at him growing up because he loved to dance. He ignored the criticism and moved to New York City to pursue performing. He said, “That’s why people come here…to be free, to be themselves, to be weird, to just live.” Sounds like, “In New York, you can be a new man,” right?
The First Musical of the Barack Obama Era
The documentary followed Miranda as he shared a TIME magazine article with the cast that stated, “Indeed the Heights might even be regarded as the first musical of the Barack Obama era…it represents change on Broadway.” It would only be a year later that Miranda would be performing an excerpt of his newest work at the Obama White House’s Evening of Poetry, Music, and Spoken Word: The Hamilton Mixtape. Barack and Michelle Obama have also been champions for the musical, inviting the original cast for a performance, where the former First Lady stated it is the best art she’s ever seen.
Reflecting America Now
Hamilton has been lauded for its revolutionary approach to diverse and inclusive casting. In The Heights also gave performers of color space to play multi-dimensional leading characters, with the story’s focus aimed towards Washington Heights, the Upper Manhattan neighborhood whose residents represent a wide array of ethnicities and cultures, like Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican. It’s no secret that casting breakdowns often generalize and oversimplify marginalized ethnicities. This often leads to negative stereotypes, which is why Robin de Jesús felt so grateful to play In The Heights’ Sonny: “Finally, a role where I do not have to carry a gun, I’m not in a gang, I’m not selling drugs, I’m just a normal human being who happens to be Hispanic and happens to live in this wonderful place called Washington Heights.”
The Award Goes to…
Miranda enthusiastically squealed when it was revealed that In The Heights earned 13 Tony nominations, which is understandable—especially for a first Broadway outing. Eight years later he would make Tony Awards history when Hamilton earned 16 nominations, so just you wait, Miranda, just you wait.
What Is a Legacy?
During preparations for opening night, Miranda shared, “I think what we try to do in life is build something that’s gonna outlive us…it’s even written into the show, ‘What do we leave behind?’” Of course, the idea of legacy is one Hamilton’s main themes, and it seems Miranda may have directly quoted himself during Hamilton’s line in “In The Room Where it Happens”: “God help and forgive me, I wanna build something that’s gonna outlive me.”
It only seems fitting that the documentary ends with footage from In The Heights’ finale, where Miranda sings, “And if not me, who keeps our legacies?...I ain’t going back because I’m telling your story,” especially thinking of the haunting final line of Hamilton “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” Miranda has indeed built himself a legacy, and Broadway fans (and PBS) will continue to tell his story.