Fascinating Rhythms: In the Heights Opens on Broadway March 9

News   Fascinating Rhythms: In the Heights Opens on Broadway March 9 The barrio setting of In the Heights, opening on Broadway March 9, may feel foreign to some theatregoers, but once you walk its pulsing, music-filled streets and meet its dreamers, the place will feel universal.
Tony-winning In the Heights creator-star Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Tony-winning In the Heights creator-star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Photo by Joan Marcus

Home, identity and prosperity are the ideas that fuel the romantic musical comedy by Broadway newcomers Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes.

In the Heights, the kinetic slice of immigrant life that wowed a varied audience — the young, the old, the bilingual, the show-tune-loving — when it played Off-Broadway in 2007, began Broadway previews Feb. 14 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Following the earlier run, the creators of this hip-hop and merengue-kissed original musical — set in a vibrant Latino neighborhood in upper Manhattan — bring to the Richard Rodgers new songs and fresh scenes, fleshing out the stories of the warm-hearted characters who bond in Washington Heights even as their world begins to change.

Among the changes to the show since its tryout: Three new songs have been added to Act Two, including a fresh number for Tony Award winner Priscilla Lopez (it's called "Enough"), who plays a mother, Camila Rosario, whose college-student daughter, Nina, returns from Stanford University for the summer.

Sparks fly when Nina gets close to Benny, who works for the Rosario family's limo business, and Nina reveals that she's unsettled about studying so far away from home. In fact, the barrio's star pupil isn't making the grade.

Mandy Gonzalez and Christopher Jackson
photo by Joan Marcus

The show's guide and life force remains Usnavi, a Dominican charmer who runs a corner bodega and has eyes for a pretty salon worker named Vanessa. Like other characters woven into the tale, Usnavi is pulled in two directions — mindful of the tropical-island past, and working to fit into the Hudson River island of the present. An unexpected windfall on a hot summer day could change everything in Usnavi's life. (The George Washington Bridge, glistening in the background of designer Anna Louizos' set, is the show's potent visual metaphor, suggesting crossovers to and from distant places.)

Newcomer (and now award winner, following the Off-Broadway run) Miranda returns to play Usnavi, whose hip-hop delivery is only one musical style in an eclectic, accessible musical comedy score that literally references Cole Porter at the top of the show.

Miranda also conceived In the Heights and wrote its music and lyrics. Pulitzer Prize finalist Hudes (Elliott, a Soldier's Fugue) penned the libretto.

Miranda, who grew up in the Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, north of the Heights, began the project when he was a college student. "I started doodling In the Heights in my astronomy notebook my sophomore year," he told Playbill. "I had written a couple of one-act musicals, and I wanted to write a full-length musical. I went to Wesleyan University in Middletown [CT]. I applied for the theatre space, and they gave it to me. So I said, 'Okay, now I really have to write it.'"

What music influenced Miranda? "My parents listened to Latin music," he said. "For us, Broadway was what I suspect it is for most people. Most people can't afford to go to Broadway all the time, but if there was a special show we heard about, we'd go once a year or twice a year. My parents loved musicals. My dad played Sound of Music every Christmas, and his favorite movie is 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown.' We had Man of La Mancha and Camelot playing in our Subaru back in the '80s, so I grew up with musical theatre and Latin music. My generation's music, hip-hop, is what I listened to with my friends, so the score is really a stew of all those things."

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Most members of the earlier Off-Broadway tryout cast — which included Lopez — reunite for the Broadway run.

The production is again directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler.

Alex Lacamoire is music director, and music arrangements are by Lacamoire and Bill Sherman. The creative team includes costume designer Paul Tazewell, lighting designer Howell Binkley and sound by Acme Sound Partners.

Appearing in the Broadway production are Andréa Burns (as neighborhood salon owner Daniela), Janet Dacal (as salon worker Carla), Robin De Jesús (as Usnavi's cousin, Sonny), Carlos Gomez (as taxi and limo service co-owner Kevin, Nina's dad and Camila's husband), Mandy Gonzalez (as student and love interest Nina), Christopher Jackson (as limo dispatcher Benny), Olga Merediz (as Abuela), Karen Olivo (as shampoo girl and love interest Vanessa) and Seth Stewart (as Grafitti Pete). The cast of 27 also features Tony Chiroldes, Rosie Lani Fiedelman, Joshua Henry, Afra Hines, Nina Lafarga, Doreen Montalvo, Javier Muñoz, Krysta Rodriguez, Eliseo Roman, Luis Salgado, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Rickey Tripp, Michael Balderrama, Blanca Camacho, Rogelio Douglas Jr. and Stephanie Klemons.

In the Heights played a February-July 2007 run at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts on far west 37th Street.

In the days leading up to the Feb. 14 Broadway bow, director Kail told Playbill.com, "When we knew that we had a chance to potentially move, when they were investigating all that, we decided to take advantage of the information that we were getting [from Off-Broadway audiences]. While we didn't do changes [during the 37 Arts run], we 'swung' Lin out a bunch of times once the show was open. So he got to see the show with three different Usnavis. That was really important: To have the chance to let Lin sit in the audience and absorb it as a writer, and not have to be doing it eight times a week."

Kail said the producers and writers were on the same page about how they wanted the show to grow after its 37 Arts residency.

He explained, "One of the things that we learned Off-Broadway is that we probably could have taken a little more time exploring things more fully, in terms of relationships — especially with the Rosarios, the family relationships. [Off-Broadway] there were moments that we alluded to, but we didn't actually get into in the most significant way in Act Two. We wanted to have a chance to re-examine that for the transfer."

Andréa Burns, Janet Dacal and Eliseo Roman
photo by Joan Marcus

Kail said the new In the Heights has "some new music, some new scenes and stuff that didn't exist in any form Off-Broadway." It's about "deepening" relationships between characters and allowing them to have new exchanges, Kail said of the rewrites.

"We realized audiences enjoyed spending time with this community," Kail said of the 2007 run, a de-facto out-of-town tryout, but about a mile away from the Rodgers. "We probably earned our stay more than we initially realized. Lin, Quiara and I, we were so adamant to not waste anybody's time. Once we saw the show unfold, we realized we probably could get into some things in a more full way, which would have taken more time. I don't think that we really trusted that yet."

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Miranda won ASCAP's 2007 Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award, and Kail and Blankenbuehler won Joseph A. Callaway Awards from the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers for their work on In the Heights. Blankenbuehler also snagged Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel awards for his choreography.

The Off-Broadway troupers of the show's earlier incarnation won the 2007 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance.

On Broadway In the Heights is produced by Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman, Sander Jacobs, Robyn Goodman/Walt Grossman, Peter Fine and Sonny Everett/Mike Skipper with associate producers Ruth Hendel and Harold Newman.

According to the producers, "In the Heights is a quintessential New York musical about a vibrant and tight-knit community at the top of the island of Manhattan. The music pulses with the hopes and dreams of three generations as they struggle to forge an identity in a neighborhood on the brink of transition."

Tickets for In the Heights are on sale now and range from $21.50 to $111.50, and can be purchased at the Richard Rodgers box office or at www.ticketmaster.com.

The playing schedule for In the Heights follows: Tuesday-Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 7 PM, with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM. There will be added performances March 17 at 8 PM, and matinees March 5, March 12, March 19 and March 26 all at 2 PM.

There will be no performance on March 9 at 2 PM, March 12 at 8 PM, March 23 at 2 PM and 7 PM, and March 30 at 7 PM.

For more information, visit www.intheheightsthemusical.com.

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The Off-Broadway engagement of the show, which ran February-July 2007 at 37 Arts, earned the following awards:

2007 Lucille Lortel Award
Outstanding Musical
Outstanding Choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler

2007 Clarence Derwent Award
Lin-Manuel Miranda

2007 Drama Desk Award
Outstanding Ensemble Performance

2007 HOLA Award
Outstanding Achievement in a Musical Production, Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Fuller
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor, Lin-Manuel Miranda
Outstanding Performance by a Featured Female Actor, Olga Merediz
Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting, Lin-Manuel Miranda

2007 Outer Critics Circle Awards
Outstanding Choreography, Andy Blankenbuehler
Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical

2007 Theatre World Award
Lin-Manuel Miranda

2007 Obie Award
Music and Lyrics, Lin-Manuel Miranda

2007 Drama Desk Awards
Outstanding Choreography, Andy Blankenbuehler
Outstanding Ensemble Performance

2007 SSDC Joseph A. Callaway Award
Director, Thomas Kail
Choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler

The cast and set of <i>In the Heights.</i>
The cast and set of In the Heights. Photo by Joan Marcus