The packed Richard Rodgers Theatre pulsed like a rock arena for performance No. 1,185. Tony Award winner Miranda's first appearance — kicking graffiti artists off his street corner just before the opening title number — got the largest ovation of the night, freezing the charismatic and much-loved actor (who is also the show's creator and songwriter) with his back to the audience.
At one point later, from behind the counter of the bodega that his character Usnavi operates, Miranda drank from a paper coffee cup and seemed to be discreetly checking out the audience, drinking in this last night of his longtime dream. Light and sweet indeed.
If you were a newcomer to In the Heights Sunday night, the story may have been obscured by the cheers. No matter. The house was largely populated by the converted (friends, family, investors, fans), who offered wild applause with the entrance of each principal.
Christopher Jackson's Benny got screams of approval when he first appeared among the ensemble, and a bigger hand when he showed up in Usnavi's place. Shaun Taylor-Corbett's frisky Sonny got an avalanche of cheers at the end of his plaintive rant about giving power to the kids of the 'hood, immobilizing Marcy Harriell's Vanessa for a spell before she could deliver her line ("You are so cute!").
It's a result of either good casting (Telsey + Company) or strong direction ( Thomas Kail) that the troupers were not interested in breaking character, winking or yukking it up at this milestone performance. This one was as focused as any seen in the first year of the run. In the Heights opened March 9, 2008, and won the Best Musical Tony Award that June. On Sunday, standing ovations exploded after the numbers "96,000," "Carnaval Del Barrio" and "Paciencia y Fe"; choral singing and shouted responses punctuated the performance (from their seats, alumni sang along and waved flags from their — or their characters' — countries of origin); and the nightclub blackout sequence at the end of Act One prompted hundreds of theatregoers to pull out their cell phones (as characters on stage do), lighting the darkness with hundreds of digital sparks.
Miranda, whose Tony-winning Best Score brims with hip-hop, rap, salsa, merengue and a smattering of other musical styles, offered a post-bows rap: "I used to dream about this moment, now I'm in it," he spoke. "I didn't write a speech so I'm just gonna wing it. I'm trying to say something that's gonna last — another hand for this futha-muckin' cast."
He praised and introduced cast, crew, producers (Jill Furman, Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller were prominent), designers (what rhymes with scenic designer Anna Louizos?), the arranger-orchestrators (Tony winners Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman), "the alumni association" (original cast members Karen Olivo, Robin De Jesus, Mandy Gonzalez, among others, entering from the wings), book writer ("my sister") Quiara Alegria Hudes and director Kail, who helped Miranda shape the show from an early version that the writer first conceived when he was in college.
"Words fail when I talk about…Tommy Kail," an occasionally profane Miranda rapped. "He's the reason we're all up here, I wanna make that fact really clear."
In the Heights is to be a licensable property (through the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, whose reps were in attendance) and Miranda expressed glee about future student productions of it, to screams of approval from the house.
"Some little high schooler's gonna be playin' Usnavi!," he exclaimed. "Some little white kid is gonna know what a Puerto Rican flag is!"
For now, there's a Grammy Award-winning cast album (Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight record producer Kurt Deutsch was in the house, with his son Eli) and an Equity national tour that plays to April 2011. A film is also in the works.
Despite the dimming of the marquee on Sunday (the Rodgers will be filled with Robin Williams in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo this spring), it looks like it will be "Lights up on Washington Heights" — somewhere — for a long time to come.
In the Heights is the groundbreaking musical created by Latino American writers, populated by an eclectic cast including Latino American performers and offering a slice of the Latino American experience.
Cooked up by actor-writer Lin-Manuel Miranda when he was a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the show went through many revisions before it was commercially produced Off-Broadway in 2007 — with Miranda in the lead role.
Following further refinements to the script and score, the producers moved the show to Broadway, where it opened March 9, 2008. The production played 29 previews and 1,185 regular performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. It recouped its investment.
Miranda, who also nominated as Best Actor in a Musical, rejoined the cast on Dec. 25 for the final two weeks of the run. His kinetic Usnavi is a Dominican bodega owner who guides us through a couple of days in the life of friends, family and lovers in the Latino-populated northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.
The final cast featured Arielle Jacobs, Andréa Burns, Marcy Harriell, Priscilla Lopez, Olga Merediz, Rick Négron, Courtney Reed, Christoper Jackson, Tony Chiroldes and Seth Stewart with Sharona D'Ornellas, Rosie Lani Fiedelman, Rubén Flores, Marcus Paul James, Jennifer Locke, Doreen Montalvo, Noah Rivera, Eliseo Román, Gabrielle Ruiz, Marcos Santana, Rickey Tripp, Willis White, Michael Balderrama, Blanca Camacho, Allison Thomas Lee, Alejandra Reyes, Alicia Taylor Tomasko and Daniel J. Watts.
For more information, visit www.intheheightsthemusical.com.