By Kenneth Jones
26 Jul 2007
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
Previews for the hip-hop and salsa-spiked musical comedy will begin Feb. 14, 2008, toward a March 9 opening. Enthusiastic crowds and encouraging critics greeted a January-July 2007 Off-Broadway run of the accessible, romantic show about a community of immigrant dreamers who live and love in far-uptown Manhattan, where the George Washington Bridge gleams as a metaphor in the sky. (Bridges, journeys, islands and distant shores are images conjured throughout the show.)
The award-winning musical has a book by Pulitzer Prize finalist Quiara Alegria Hudes, and music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who previously played Usnavi, the show's antsy Tevye-like Dominican narrator, and will return for Broadway.
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."
The Broadway design team will feature scenic design by Anna Louizos, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Howell Binkley and sound by Acme Sound Partners.
During its Off-Broadway run at 37 Arts (it closed July 15, after 33 previews and 182 regular performances), the show snagged the Outer Critics' Circle Award for Outstanding Musical; Outer Critics' Circle Award for Outstanding Choreography; Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical; Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Choreography; Drama Desk for Outstanding Choreography; Drama Desk for Outstanding Ensemble Performance; Obie Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics; Equity's Clarence Derwent Award for Lin-Manuel Miranda; Theatre World Award for Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Even as the spring-summer run continued, the writers went back to work to sharpen their creation in anticipation of the Broadway transfer. No cast album has been recorded or released, but that's expected to happen once the score's revised shape has gelled. The creators had the advantage of a six-month, de-facto in-town tryout that lured traditional and new audiences — younger and Latino — to the musical.
The Broadway move for the show is part of a tradition for which producers Seller and McCollum are known — they listen for new sounds that will attract fresh audiences to American musicals. Seller and McCollum brought Rent and Avenue Q to Broadway, in turn luring younger audiences to the form; both shows won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
In addition to penning the score — which overflows with pop power ballads, dance numbers, rap riffs and varied odes to the characters' tropic roots — Miranda plays the narrator and hero, Usnavi, who runs a bodega where the coffee is light and sweet. Observers called his work one of the great performances of the New York season; for his acting, he won a 2007 Theatre World Award and Equity's Clarence Derwent Award. As the show's writer, he won the Obie Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics.
In the Heights is directed by commercial newcomer Thomas Kail, who was entrusted with helping to shape the show that was first presented as an undergraduate musical at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Kail and Miranda are Wesleyan alumni (they graduated in different years), but Kail came to the material after its developmental collegiate start. Kail's best-known project is Freestyle Love Supreme, the hip-hop musical comedy improv show (co-created with Miranda). He is a partner in Back House Productions (www.backhouseproductions.org), which developed both Freestyle and In the Heights.
Hudes was a 2007 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Elliot, a Solider's Fugue, and her work has been produced around the country (Yemaya's Belly, The Adventures of Barrio Grrrl!). She is currently completing 26 Miles, about an estranged mother and daughter who drive to Yellowstone together, commissioned by South Coast Repertory and Signature Theatre. Hudes earned a B.A. in Music Composition from Yale, then an M.F.A. in Playwriting from Brown. She is a resident playwright at New Dramatists.
In a statement earlier this year, producer McCollum said, "Over the past six months we have had the luxury of time to gain insight to what needs to be done to move In the Heights to the next step, which will be Broadway. Since Lin-Manuel Miranda both stars in In the Heights and is the composer and lyricist, we have elected to close the [Off-Broadway] show so our full creative team will have the time to do the work that now needs to be done. In essence our engagement at 37 Arts can be considered our six-month out-of-town, in town, tryout."
Furman added, "It's a rare opportunity to take a show that's playing successfully, put it back into rehearsal and give it new birth. The entire team is thrilled."
Seller added, "Of all the shows we've been involved with In the Heights attracts the widest audience — parents are bringing their children, schools are buying out entire houses at matinees and senior citizens are coming and connecting to the show as well. Time will only tell how deep our audiences are, but judging by our experience we think they're pretty wide. Here's a show that has attracted everyone from the hard-to-get Latino audience to the essential Jewish audience. Playing in a Broadway house will mean we can offer ticket prices that virtually anyone can afford."
For more information, visit www.intheheightsmusical.com.