EXCLUSIVE: Lin-Manuel Miranda Talks About Taking In the Heights to Puerto Rico

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22 Nov 2010

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Lin-Manuel Miranda will jump into the tour of In the Heights for a week in Puerto Rico, the home of his forebears. As his character in the hit musical might say, "I found my island!"

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When Lin-Manuel Miranda, the conceiver, star and songwriter of Broadway's In the Heights, won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Score, he concluded his rap-happy acceptance speech by pulling a Puerto Rican flag out of the pocket of his tux. The award, he said, was for Puerto Rico — the land of his father, his mother and his grandparents.

More than two years after the Broadway success of the Latino-centric musical comedy about a Manhattan neighborhood where Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans and other Spanish-speaking folk live, love and work, In the Heights is going to the ancestral home of its creator. Miranda — who was also a Tony nominee as Best Actor for playing Usnavi, the narrator of the show — spent childhood summers with his paternal grandparents in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. The Broadway star will jump into the U.S. national tour of In the Heights in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov. 30-Dec. 5.

The booking represents a rare Puerto Rican engagement for the first national tour of a hit Broadway show. Presenter Adam Troy Epstein told Playbill.com, "I have been the only U.S. presenter to bring touring non-Equity and Equity Broadway productions to Puerto Rico in the last ten years, so to my knowledge — and the knowledge of the agents who represent the shows — In the Heights is the first Equity [Broadway touring] production. It is very expensive to get a show to Puerto Rico due to the shipping expense; and time off necessary to get the sets, costumes, etc., to San Juan make it complicated to route tours there. I'm always working to bring more shows to San Juan, but it is very difficult."



Miranda's New Yorker father, Luis Miranda, is the leader of the In the Heights public relations effort in San Juan, in conjunction with Lidda Garcia, his local counterpart.

Epstein added, "Affordability is a challenge given the high cost of presenting shows in Puerto Rico, yet we strive to find a way to have a ticket price in the $50 range. I know that Lin and his father are working with local corporations who are purchasing some seats to be able to donate them or sell them at a lower price. At the same time, the law in Puerto Rico mandates that anyone over 60 years old, or is ADA qualified, receives a 50 percent discount. Anyone over 75 years old receives free tickets. To date, we have given away over $70,000 in free tickets, and discounted over $30,000 in tickets to seniors over 60 but under 75 years old."

Miranda, who is currently working on songs for the new musical Bring It On, spoke with Playbill.com about the upcoming San Juan run, and reflected on his connection to the island. After his turn in Puerto Rico, where he is serious celebrity, he'll continue work on the Atlanta world premiere of Bring It On before jumping into the final weeks of the Broadway run of In the Heights (he returns to the show Dec. 25).

 

Lin-Manuel Miranda in In the Heights
photo by Joan Marcus

We were excited to see that In the Heights is going to Puerto Rico.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: Not nearly as excited as I am. [Laughs.] You know, we worked a very long time to make this happen, and I think this is the first national tour that has ever gone there. They get shows pretty late in the life cycle, and to be able to bring a first national tour to Puerto Rico is really sort of unprecedented. So I'm really thrilled.

Did you personally push for it?
LMM: I did. I actually did it with my father. We were like, "We don't know if we'll make money, but we're gonna make history." And given how we've been selling in Puerto Rico, it looks like we're gonna be able to do both, which is really fantastic. I did not know this at the time, but when I pulled out that [Puerto Rican] flag when I won the Tony, it really sparked something over there, and they've been clamoring for it. When I was still in the show — I know, I'm going back in — but when I was still in the show, [after] every [performance], at the stage door, I'd meet at least two people who flew up from Puerto Rico to see the show. It really became a cause over there. It became like, "Oh, my God. One of our own has done something positive." So I'm really thrilled to bring it home.

So what did you do exactly? Did you personally try to get a local presenter or was that the job of your producers?
LMM: That was the job of our producers. My father grew up in Puerto Rico and lived there all his life, so he worked with them in terms of the contacts in order to really make this thing work from a publicity side. We think our economy is bad, but Puerto Rico is that cubed…it's a part of the United States, but they've been hit three times as hard as the rest of the country. So we really had to get the word out and price appropriately, and the fact that we're selling eight shows is huge. That just doesn't happen that much in Puerto Rico. Even the biggest rock stars — when Paul McCartney goes, he sells one show, two shows. So it's really been sort of amazing. I've been dropping in throughout the year. I did a big publicity swing about a month ago. We went there to announce it, so I've been going there a lot. This swing of the tour has been my baby.

Did you know for sure that you were the guy to do the run there? Did you definitely want to do it?
LMM: Yes. I hadn't been to Puerto Rico since the show had won the Tonys — and I went, I think it was fall of last year, and I was not ready for what this show has meant to people down there. I got paparazzi on the beach. I had a security detail. It was crazy, and everyone was asking me, "Will you do it? Will you bring the show [here]?" So I made that promise a long time ago. I was always gonna do this leg of the tour.

And even very early in the conception of the show, when it was Off-Broadway, did you turn to colleagues like director Thomas Kail and say, "Wouldn't it be cool if this could play Puerto Rico?"
LMM: Yeah, absolutely! You have to know something — my great-uncle actually founded the Actors Guild of Puerto Rico. His name is Ernesto Concepcion. His son is a very popular actor on the island still, my cousin Ernestito. So some of my first theatre experiences were on the island — seeing my uncle's shows, and the fact that we're actually getting to bring the show there, and it's with an amazing cast. This is a tour cast that I've already worked with. I worked with them in L.A. I just feel really proud that we can get it there.

It's interesting because In the Heights invites us to look at heritage from the American perspective — that is, looking back at the old country — but people who live in Puerto Rico now will see it as remembering that their uncle left or that their sister left. It's a different angle to see the show from.
LMM: That's true, and although the show straddles several different nationalities — the character Usnavi is Dominican, the character of Carla is a little bit of everything! — my memories are growing up, spending summers on that island. There are so many musical little in-jokes that are really distinctly Puerto Rican. I cannot wait to see how it plays. I'll give you an example; at the top of "Sunrise," there's a flute figure that … [is] actually the sound of the coquí frog, which is a frog that's native only to Puerto Rico, and every night in Puerto Rico you'll hear that [sound] coming from 50 different trees. Audiences don't get that here. [Laughs.] That sound is gonna get its own ovation when Act Two starts in Puerto Rico. The little things like that — Vega Alta, which is my father's hometown, which gets a shout-out in the show — there's sort of little "Easter eggs" throughout that no one has spotted but will be glaring to the Puerto Rican audience. I just can't wait to see it.

Watch Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2008 Tony Award acceptance speech:

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