PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bringing In the Heights Home to Washington Heights

By Michael Gioia
06 Feb 2013

Miranda in In the Heights.
Photo by Joan Marcus

How "staged" will the evening be?
LMM: It's a concert. This is not a production of In the Heights. If you've ever seen one of those Les Miz anniversary concerts on PBS, it's closer to that, except Colm Wilkinson won't come on at the end and sing "Bring Him Home." More's the pity — Colm Wilkinson is awesome! [Laughs.] It's going to be us singing through the score of the show. I doubt we'll be able to make it through this show without dancing. It's very difficult not to! That's just the nature of the score.

Choreography played its own role in In the Heights.
LMM: Absolutely. There's a great video of the making of our cast album that's on YouTube, and there's a section where they're singing through "Carnaval [del Barrio]," and you see Luis Salgado and Josh Henry just doing the choreography as they're singing in the vocal booth. I mean, it's very hard for us to separate it, so I'm sure you will see some of it break out.

Since there will be cast members from national tours as well as Broadway replacements, will everyone stick to a specific track or will the songs be spread out?
LMM: Well, without giving too much away, our goal is that the original cast members will be singing their tracks in the show, and we will bring the family together for a big finale and big encore. But it will be us singing our original roles.

You tweeted about a "beloved" song that was cut from the work when it transferred from Off-Broadway to Broadway being incorporated in the concert. Can you tell us more?
LMM: I don't want to give it away! But there were a couple of songs that did not survive the journey from Off-Broadway to Broadway, and that wasn't a reflection on the quality of the songs; the landscape had changed around them. We changed almost every song going into Broadway, but we added four new ones, including "Enough," which Camilla sings; we added "When the Sun Goes Down"; we added "Champagne"; and we ended up cutting songs as a result. There's one that I hear about all the time via Twitter or via fans. [They say], "Why isn't that song in the show anymore?" There's a very good reason it's not in the show anymore, but there's no reason we can't sing it on Monday, so we're singing it… So it'll be fun.


Miranda in In the Heights.
photo by Joan Marcus

What excites you the most about revisiting In the Heights with most of the original cast?
LMM: This year has been an interesting year in the "life" of the show. The show is its own thing. It lives its own life. This year is the year that stock and amateur [licensing] rights became available for the show, so it went from me getting messages [that said], "We love the show" to, "I'm playing Usnavi"… "I'm playing Graffiti Pete" … "I'm playing Daniela" at various schools all over the world — at least 30-50 messages a day from people who are doing the show. So, in a lot of ways, Heights has never really gone away from me, but what's really fun is actually getting to plunge back into the work with the people who helped shape it. To be perfectly honest, that original cast — so many of them — were along for the journey, not just in the ramp-up to Off-Broadway or Broadway, but for years when we were just doing readings and workshops, and trying to raise money and attention, and trying to get our show right. People like Chris Jackson and Janet Dacal and Andréa Burns, who were involved in some of the earliest readings… Doreen Montalvo… That's the fun — plunging into the material, not just when I go see a school production and talking to the kids about how we did it. These people all know how we did it. They were there every step of the journey, so it's a very special feeling to get to relive it with them.

Do you often see regional or school productions of In the Heights?
LMM: [Laughs.] I get requests almost every weekend at this point because they're all starting, so it's impossible for me to be at all of them. I do try to provide encouragement and tips whenever I can, but it is a shame that I can't be at every production because I just love going to school productions! [Laughs.] That's how I fell in love with theatre — by doing it. I was in a lot of musicals in middle school and high school, and that was my way in, so it really thrills me that there are kids that are going to be friends forever because they played the Salon Ladies together, or [they] have weird crushes on each other, but it's not going to be able to work out, because they're playing Benny and Nina. [Laughs.] That comes with the roles. I have my own friendships that are lifelong friendships because of shows I've done. I played best friends with Colin Donnell and Celia Keenan-Bolger last year [in the Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along], and I still feel like they're my best friends, even though we only did it for two weeks at City Center. There's something that is to be gained by doing a show that you can't ever get from watching a show, and I'm just trilled that kids are getting that experience through this show.

What are their reactions when you do go to the show and give them advice or talk to them following the performance?
LMM: They are not dissimilar to my own reactions when we got fancy people to come to our show. When I was a senior in high school, [Tony-nominated book writer] John Weidman came and spoke to our cast of West Side Story, and he brought Steve Sondheim to speak to our cast, and it was the most exciting day of my teens, you know! [Laughs.] It was because [Sondheim] was the guy responsible for this work that was making me so happy, and we got to ask him for-real questions rooted in practicality, not just, "I love your show, why are you so awesome?" We got to ask him, "How did the prologue come about?" That's the fun of meeting with students who are working on the show in production. Their questions are really practical. One of the things that I do… I'm still in touch with my high school, [Hunter College High School], and whenever they do their annual musical, I try to bring someone who was involved in the process to come speak to them. I once brought [Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist] John Kander to speak to the school while they were doing a production of Cabaret, and he left blown away by how specific and probing and deep their questions were because they were really wrestling with it. That's the real joy.