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

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06 Feb 2013

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda
Corey Hayes

Actor and Tony Award-winning songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda will bring his Tony-winning Best Musical In the Heights to the United Palace of Cultural Arts in Washington Heights in a reunion concert that features members from the original Broadway cast. Playbill catches up.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was last seen on stage one year ago in the Encores! staging of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along, will return to the spotlight one night only. On Feb. 11, he will revisit the role of Washington Heights bodega owner Usnavi, who "pounds the pavement" by day and dreams of the easy life in the Dominican Republic in his spare time. He will be joined by fellow original Broadway cast members Karen Olivo, Chris Jackson, Olga Merediz, Mandy Gonzalez, Robin de Jesús, Janet Dacal and Andréa Burns, among others, who will reprise their roles in the 2008 Tony-winning Best Musical about life in and around the uptown Manhattan neighborhood populated by Latino-rooted friends, families, lovers and dreamers. (The libretto is by Quiara Alegria Hudes, who, with Miranda, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for In the Heights. She would later snag the Pulitzer for her play Water By the Spoonful, now playing Off-Broadway.)

Following the star-studded Heights concert, which is a benefit for Viva Broadway, Miranda will continue to work on The Hamilton Mixtape, his hip-hop song cycle about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, seen in January 2012 as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. We recently spoke with Miranda, who shared details about the anticipated In the Heights reunion as well as his latest project.

I first saw In the Heights on its final Broadway preview, and it was one of the most insane nights I've spent in the theatre. The audience and the energy inside the Richard Rodgers Theatre was out of this world.
Lin-Manuel Miranda: [Laughs.] Awesome! Yeah, we're hoping to get even a fraction of that on Monday. Have you ever been to the United Palace Theatre?

No.
LMM: It's like Radio City [Music Hall]. It's the second largest theatre in New York, but it's this secret theatre uptown. [Laughs.] I'm really excited about the energy of being in that big house, which is like literally double the size of the Richard Rodgers, where we originally played [on Broadway].

 

Miranda in In the Heights.
photo by Joan Marcus

What prompted you to say, "Let's do a reunion concert of In the Heights"?
LMM: [Original Broadway cast member] Karen Olivo. [Laughs.] It was this funny bit of synchronicity. This is the easiest way to tell the story: When I did the first version of In the Heights [around] the year 2000 at college [at Wesleyan University] — it was an 80-minute one-act — my dad rented a bus and brought a bunch of family friends up to see it in Middletown, CT. So we kind of did a repeat of that, with me on the bus this time, to go see the second national tour of Heights when it was in New Haven. We had a bus of friends going up to see the show, and Karen joined us, and, on the way back, we were high off seeing a great production, and Karen [said], "Hey, if we ever want to do a reunion concert, we should do it soon while we're young and have our health…and have these notes!" [Laughs.] It sort of came out of that casual conversation. I talked about it with my dad, [who] is a big community leader here uptown, and his gears started turning. We started talking: "How great would it be to actually do the show in the neighborhood and find some great causes to raise money for?," which, in the case of this concert, is Viva Broadway, which exposes families to theatres for the first time, and arts programs in Washington Heights.

Tell me about your involvement with Viva Broadway.
LMM: Their goal is to get new theatregoers — people who aren't necessarily exposed to theatre. To me, that's… I think that the fact that my parents were avid cast album collectors [when I was] a kid really changed the direction of my life, or at least the direction which I channeled my creativity. And, I think that it's a really worthwhile goal. If you take 50 kids to the theatre, 10 of them will go, "Oh my God, my life is changed forever, and I'm going to do something with this." I was definitely one of those kids. I think it's a great program, and we're really excited to be involved with them.

Was it difficult to get most of the cast on board for this reunion?
LMM: I mean, there were logistical issues to handle. Some people don't live in New York anymore; we're sort of scattered about a bit. But, logistical issues aside, everyone was very excited to get together and sing this score again. Not only is much of the original cast doing the concert, we have a lot of guests from the first and second national tours and friends who were in the original Broadway run but weren't necessarily [part of the] original cast, but did the show for many years. It's really like a family reunion. A lot of us are still in touch and work together in various capacities, so it's just nothing but a joy. Our first rehearsal together is later this week, and I can't wait… We'll have a couple of rehearsals going into the weekend and then rehearse the day of. I mean, it's pretty burned into our muscle memory after over 1,000 performances [on Broadway]. It will be fun to get back into the ring.



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