This article was originally published February 24, 2010.
In the Heights had just celebrated its second birthday on the Great White Way. Its creator and original leading man, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has seen his "baby" grow from its conception at Wesleyan College to its big break Off-Broadway to eventually making it to Broadway to winning a few Tonys to seeing it go out on tour and, now, to its Hollywood move. (Full disclosure, I was his press agent before coming to Playbill).
When Lin took his final bow as Usnavi (Heights’ narrator and guide), he began what would become an almost ceremonial handing over of the reins to future Usnavis, starting with Javier Muñoz and continuing with Michael Balderrama, Jonathan Rua, Kyle Beltran, and the newest Usnavi (or "Newsnavi," as he's known), Corbin Bleu.
So, when Lin told me about a planned Usnavi alumni reunion dinner, I thought it might be interesting to arm these ’navis with a camera…and see what we might pickup.
Most Embarrassing Moment (Balderramal): Early on in our Off-Broadway run, they called me a few hours before curtain to tell me that I needed to fill in as Usnavi. I get through the entire show without a mistake. We get to the last line of the show: “Take a train to the top of the world and I’m there….I'm home!” and I scream “Take a BRAIN to the top of the world…” I was so close.
Funniest Moment (Bleu): During the fight scene in the bar [when Usnavi pulls down the pants of the guy hitting on Vanessa], I got a little too into it and pulled too hard. Down came the pants and the boxers. Good thing he was wearing another layer under the boxers! I ran behind the bodega to compose myself I was laughing so hard!
Favorite Part of Being Onstage (Miranda): My favorite part of doing the show was whenever some note went pitchy or wrong, in the orchestra or onstage. Robin De Jesús [who created the role of Sonny], without fail, would turn to me in the bodega and say, “Ha. They think you wrote that.”
Favorite Usnavi—besides yourself (Miranda): Impossible to answer! Because a.) They’re all excellent in unique ways, and b.) We steal from each other all the time. I know I’ve stolen little inflections from all of them, and vice versa. It’s like a teaching curriculum. You do what works within the role.