New York Voices; 804; In the Heights
Can. The Fiddler on the roof is about this community that is you know tradition is the same and they've done the same thing for centuries and suddenly the world changes around them. I think in the heights is the story of when we've come from all different places. What do we choose to keep. What's things with us. You know what part of me is what the creek what what part of it is. From. You your. VOICE. New York.
Places New York Voices is made possible by the members of 13 additional funding by Michael t MARTIN And Elise JAFFE And Jeffrey Brown.
Welcome to YOUR VOICES. I'm Rafael here online. You know New York City has always been a melting pot of people and cultures. And nowhere is this more evident perhaps than in Washington Heights a neighborhood that has gone from Jewish to Italian the Irish the Dominican Cuban and Puerto Rican. People change but the story remains the same. The dream of a better life and a longing for home. Such are the themes of In The Heights a vibrant new musical which started as a college production and will open on Broadway next month. I had a chance to meet with the creator and star of In The Heights in my new I mean I'm done between rehearsals.
Women will hunt in the heights come to be. I started writing in The Heights when I was 19 years old I was a sophomore at Wesley University.
I've written a couple of one act place in high school and I mean I guess the short answer is I was homesick. I was going to school in Middletown Connecticut. I was living in a Latino program House with other Latinos really for the first time in my life. Had met I met other kids like me who you know grew up in upper Manhattan or the outer boroughs of Manhattan and were all suddenly in the middle of the suburbs and found themselves clinging to each other and missing balding guys and missing missing the city. So I wrote the kind of show I'd want to be in.
So how much has it changed from the college production to the soon to be Broadway.
There are five you know it's that Survivor and Washington Heights. That's what has lived from 2000 tell now there's a lot of chord progressions a lot of the music has stayed the same. I don't think there are any songs that survive.
Could you give me a brief synopsis of In The Heights.
Sure in the heights is the story of two days on this corner of Washington Heights New York which is in upper Manhattan. Take it in the top. And when we see the story through the eyes of the who is a Dominican they got owner who he has his corner Well they've gotten all the stories passed through his bodega. We are in the story of Nina who's just home from school and has a secret that she's about to tell her parents and we see a little bit of her courtship with Benny who works for her parents at their taxi dispatch on the corner. We meet Carla and Vanessa who work in the salon next door Vanessa being his longtime unrequited love interest. We have someone who hit who hit the numbers but I'm not going to tell you who that is. And we have a blackout and it's sort of this at the end of the day the story is really a snapshot of this neighborhood on the brink of transition. It's getting more expensive for all of the residents and and we're really trying to capture the flavor of this neighborhood before it changes. Much.
Let me ask you you said that the music that's. Inspired the music of In The Heights was a soundtrack of your life. Yes.
I wonder specifically how the story of In The Heights reflects your personal experience.
It's sort of a funhouse mirror version. My parents were both born in Puerto Rico. I had and I went who was not my abuela She raised my father actually made up with the heat cause she was his babysitter and when my parents both came here my dad got involved in politics as you know and my mom was a psychologist they both worked full time to sort of you know keep the lights on and so we needed help. And she raised me. I was very aware that my neighborhood was was different growing up because I didn't go to school in my neighborhood. I went to Hunter on the Upper East Side with kids from a totally different socioeconomic status. For me they all lived on the upper west and east sides. And you know they all thought I lived in the Bronx like they had no conception of life above 96 street.
You know I recently interviewed the wonderful young Dominican writer for Juno the artist.
His book I must have given out 20 copies of that book is fantastic.
You know there's a lot of similarities between his work and your work. One of his biggest preoccupations is about how many of us who are hyphenated Americans feel like we don't belong anywhere that we are homeless and and that seems to be a theme of this play home that Puerto Rico's home the Dominican Republic Soame Cuba is home. Washington Heights is home. I wonder if you although you were born here do you feel that would you know the U.S. is talking about reflects your experience is this an issue for you where you belong.
Absolutely and I think I think the beginning of the writing of the show really became about finding what that is finding what we define as home. You know if a fiddler on the roof is about this community that is you know tradition is the same and they've done the same thing for centuries and suddenly the world changes around them. I think in the heights is the story of well when we've come from all different places what do we choose to keep. What stays with us. You know what part of me is what people are equal part of me is a permit.
The music of In The Heights which is a combination of sound of summiting giving your own hip hop and many other things brings a new voice will bring a new voice to Broadway. You have also somehow managed. To preserve the tradition of the Broadway mule.
We only joke is they broke.
I think musical theater at its best is one of our most thrilling American art forms. My parents theatre was very special it was not like we were theatergoers. It was a once a year for your birthday if you're good kind of thing as I suspect it is for most New Yorkers and certainly most Latinos. And and but we had those cast albums my mom would blast the Camelot cast album because they're from a time when you know popular music and theater music sort of emerged a little more regardless of the genre of music I've always been attracted to music to tell stories whether it's true in this in this you want to use in the 70s or and by that I don't know so well I mean on this which is one of my favorite songs of all time or you know mind playing tricks on me by the Ghetto Boys from the early 90s which is an incredible story a harrowing story. I always saw it all as storytelling and I never saw any of it is mutually exclusive.
But this knowledge or this acquaintance that you have with the traditional Broadway musical comes from your parents.
It comes from my parents and it also comes from being a theater nerd in high school.
And I'm not talking about your father to me down there. Yes. I've known him for more than 20 years is a brilliant guy. You know a very respected member of the Hispanic community in the city and beyond but you know I have never seen him break into song or bust a move. So my question is how did you get your musical talent and your ability to seeing their hands.
Well I put these things together. I hate to say it because I hate to make his head any bigger than it is but I got it from him.
My mom got kicked out of Glee Club in high school. God bless her. But you know he is he and my aunt might think I mean I his sister would. They were the ones who gather around the piano at every party and they would start singing the old songs that maybe a horse on one end and all those tunes and my dad at any party is the guy who will dance with every person in that room and I just missed those part and you missed this part and should come over here great. But yeah no I got it from him.
Now if I didn't know any better I would have imagined that you wrote these parts for the actors who were playing them because they fit so well into those parts. How difficult was it to cast as play you know get that fit.
It's it's very hard it's very hard when we have several advantages one which is that we're New York City which is where all the most talented people in the world come. And to we have a vastly underused and hungry Latino group of actors in the city who you know can't just wait around for the next West Side Story to to be remounted. And so we have a phenomenal cast. For.
You see Chris Jackson has been with the role since 2002 and with Robin to hasten Robert the hastens can land any line in the world and so you know you just him and Andrea burns as well a lot of these girls. And I'm not. I'm not. But. I consider Priscilla Lopez the reason we're all here I mean I think morale is to roll in A Chorus Line in 175 is one of the most realistic and three dimensional Latino characters we have in the musical theater as the writer of the play do you ever find yourself distracted on stage by focusing on other people the way that they're delivering your lines or singing your songs.
Yeah that happened a little in previews with their off-Broadway. There was this one moment at the top of act two I had the scene with Vanessa and she says you know the number one thing I can't stand and I'm supposed to say morning without my coffee and she goes being left alone and it's like a slow burn. I'm trying to think of better lyrics for something else during this particular run and she goes you know them. The number one thing I can't stand and I say being left alone which is her line and she kind of looked at me and said exactly. I walked away. She was great. He looked at me like I was crazy. And so after that day I was like you know what I just have to keep that actor hat on and leave the rewrite so after the show was over.
You know one of the most touching things for me in The Heights was a strong sense of family. You know the sense that that one generation will sacrifice everything for the next and the only thing that bothers them is that they may not be able to sacrifice enough. You know the song captures that so well grabs your heart.
I wish. That my family.
I will do.
What it takes.
Oh my God. I. Will have.
And of course there's the perennial where we all. Had a willa back in the island somewhere you know the person who takes care of everybody no matter if they're related to them or not. You get you know as somebody who grew up in a hispanic culture. Boy that was as familiar to me as to a stone isn't it. I wonder what your experience has been with non Latinos have they fill the same kind of identification.
Yeah well you know one of the one of the most validating things about the run off Broadway was I got to meet a lot of older residents of Washington Heights and former residents of Washington Heights people in their 60s and 70s who said. You know I grew up here in the 40s and 50s and it was all Irish and it was all Jewish and there were blocks that were entirely Greek and you capture it and it feels exactly the same way. And I think I think the story of Latinos in the United States is the latest chapter in the quintessential American story which is that you know we come here for a better life and we come here so that our children can go farther than we did. And that is universal. And I think relates to anyone in this country.
Now as you said you've been working on this for eight years now. Hot enough more on than off this has been my young adult life. Do you ever say to yourself Geez I wish I could do something else when I'm going to get to do something else.
If I ever felt done I think I would say that I haven't felt done yet. You know I think. I think we are so close to you know today was bittersweet today.
You've got to catch a little of our last rehearsal in the studio before we go into the Broadway theater. And I made big changes today and my list of changes is getting shorter and shorter. So I think I probably feel a little like J.K. Rowling did around Book seven.
I don't I mean I've spent a long time writing it and then we're almost done. I never felt I never felt tired. It's I mean I'm doing what I love to do.
Although the cast of In The Heights has no big names they give an all star performance. I spoke with four of the actors at the legendary Sardi's restaurant.
First of all congratulations. You guys are just so unbelievably fantastic it's hard for me not to get up and give you a standing ovation right now. But but tell me I know you're all actors and you're supposed to be able to embody any any role but this is special. You guys really you know you have an incredible fit in these. How do you do it. How did you do it for for this play.
Only I play this this elderly lady that that holds everybody in that counsels people in that I have the I have the recipes for the community and I just focus on as the character giving to everyone and just just like a have a big heart. How about you Priscilla.
Well I played Nina's mother and I'm a mother myself of children who are about Nina's age. And so a lot comes from my own experience of having to deal with my children but. Whenever I play a Latino mother I it's my mother you know I mean she just comes out. So it's it's the combination of my memory of my mother and then who I am and then taking what is given in the text in the situation and just kind of.
Putting it all together I found that I just connected to Nina so much I mean I am from the same kind of family I struggled to come here to New York and I have a deep level of respect for where I come from from my roots and it's that struggle of trying to hold on to that. And still progress forward into your dreams and making it all.
Safe together. And Chris you've been with the play since 2002. The line between Benny and me is so blurry right now. Listen. We've got a special.
Has. Been uneasy about a minute much like you know there's there's there's so much the better he is trying to say that sometimes he can help accomplish that and sometimes he does it what attracted you to this play was it the identification with the Hispanic culture.
The music is so the way Lin-Manuel Miranda rights he like I mentioned before with such heart and passion you just sing you sing a line and you just give me the music carries you there.
Finally got the job.
Done. Polishing with pride. All right. Anything to let me. Know we. Took yours. Why so.
You know as a singer and as an actor. I just I love the music. And also it was a chance to play this incredible role of a black cloud. You know she's an elderly woman and in our community we embrace we embrace our elders you know we we take them in we include them we go to them for advice we include them in our in our gatherings and we don't throw them away and they're there and I think we honor them.
The reason I ask is because all four of them have as they say crossed over. You've done roles that have nothing to do with Latinos with African-Americans and you've done roles that anybody from any ethnic background or racial brag could have done. And that seems to me from what I read that that's the ideal for an actor not to be pigeonholed. That's right ethnically. Exactly.
Yet you're chosen to do roles that are so look you know it's an honor I mean these roles don't normally come up for us and it's normally one of us in the ensemble. You know what I mean it's it's the token and and this time it's not it's while I'm on stage with with so many different people so many different ethnicities I mean Karen to leave oh and you know I would never be able to share a stage with her but in the show I can. You know. It's you.
Not. It's not often that you get to take such a personal stake in the show period. It's something that I can literally wake up thinking every time I go on the stage door is like what we do can change people's lives. I remember when I when I started college there are kids and then I was in school with. So I got to go see Course line or cats when I was you know a kid when I was five. And from that moment on I wanted to be a dancer I wanted to be on stage I wanted to be a director whatever. And it isn't it. This particular piece speaks to so many things outside of the world of what the theater is. It's it dares to inspire without preaching.
It's what you said OK. I mean it couldn't be more Latino Hispanic in a sense. But at the same time as you said obviously audiences of all types of responding to this is a universal.
He's so American. I mean that's his we all came here and like so many people they came to the show off-Broadway said. That's my story and they're not Latino are anything and I. I think that it's the American Stories American dream. We're all human beings. Yeah it's not hard to actually answer yes or no.
Son I mean like all of them. What attracted me first was the music the music just made me you know what.
So that was it's hard to forget once you're here and I am nobody's talking this way in the theater the entire vocabulary of the streets of the city of the countries are changed and yet we've and I wouldn't say to our detriment but as as the article at the African community we preserve the a particular way of speaking and singing to one another and this is something that is so far I just literally kicks it completely out the door and then then you sprinkle it but it's a voice that is so relevant less with the reviewers say it's a new voice. But you know at the same time maintaining the tradition of the of the royal we which which makes us all universally right about hip hop this is New York New York is hip hop and the idea of not having explored that in 20 plus year history is really it is really interesting and something that you really want. Well you know it's certainly been you know crafted and it certainly is and is an amazing way to tell the story which is the essence of what this is in the spirit of what hip hop has always been like. 1.0. To guide us.
It was. The type to get. Stressed. I guess.
With. The audience.
And then years and then one day you just say I'm good.
The bar has been doing work already Do you ever feel like you have to give them something some place and oh yeah yeah absolutely don't want to.
Absolutely yeah absolutely. I mean you don't want my character in general just give him a lot of fun you know. True.
Yeah I mean I use the people I was a parent I mean your guy's head afters the actor had given him a you know tip sheet.
So he doesn't need to play the smartest person that the best thing to say about Lynn is that it's not about having years of training. Lin has the ability to be honest onstage. He has ability to be honest offstage right when he's writing just as a friend as a as a coworker. You know he puts his hat on he wears different hats but he has which ones to wear at the right time. I've done a thousand performances I mean in various other things I've collaborated with him and Lynn just he's just like anybody else the same as I was like them up he has the ability to just tell the truth.
It's no different for you to that's acting on right there I mean that's that's really that's as much as you need to be as great as if you don't you don't feel different as actors to be performing along on another performer who also happens to be the writer of the play yes I do want to.
Pose that I did. Because I finally conquered them. It was like it he can. Look at the little girl right. It goes like this I realize now this is a little support but I did like a look at it is like they go.
Like. I don't know.
When did you know that when you were performing off-Broadway When did you know that this was going to Broadway Did you know him because you know from the our first audition together for the workshop together she said I never remember do you not know I remember we were like sitting outside so I don't know I thought all along that we were in for something something special. Yeah you know and we all put the vibe out there I mean we made a sign and we're like we're going to fall and we all signed it and we were in the I mean the women we're on the same we did the creative visualization before the Secret World of the game just hearing what 11 women 11 men like and so I mean we were given dressing rooms but you know so we all bonded together we were like We're going to marry I ponder in terms of the reality of you know outside of ourselves the fact that when we would finish up performances and there was a crowd waiting the audience waiting.
As it happens today you did your first rehearsal with the.
Orchestra. And I wasn't there but my producer tells me that just before each one of you went up. Saying it would only be true of Verdun and at the end the thing Manuel cried at the end of the last number and your producer who is an old veteran cry as well. Portman's Yeah I know it sounds so corny but it's just like.
I think it's a real first of all it's a company that is truly united. You know you know why I'm.
Strongly supportive of everybody that is how kind you know I would say it's the journey you know that we may have been going on and. Seeing the realization of it all coming you know just continuing down that path. It's kind of like Gali die things down the album called just collecting people you know it gets bigger than our money did.
You hear that music.
With and that's it for this edition of New York Voices. For more tonight's program or to see extended interviews with Lin-Manuel or the cast log onto our website at 13 dot org. I'm Rafael thanks for watching. We'll see you next time.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- New York Voices
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- In the Heights
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- Thirteen WNET
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- The Latino Musical In the Heights is coming to Broadway, and by all accounts it will be a winner. Host Rafael Pi Roman talks to the creator of this homegrown New York musical, and to members of the cast about the show's move to Broadway and about the New York community of Washington Heights that inspired the tale. Lin-Manuel Miranda was a college sophomore at Wesleyan when he conceived of the show. Homesick for a little hometown sabor in the white bread area of Middletown, Connecticut, he wrote this musical infused with hip-hop and Latin music. The outcome is a vibrant mix of musical styles while still retaining the traditions of musical theater.
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Host: Pi Roman, Rafael
Interviewee: Miranda, Lin-Manuel
Producing Organization: Thirteen WNET
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Thirteen - New York Public Media (WNET)
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- Chicago: “New York Voices; 804; In the Heights,” 2008-02-19, Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 21, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_75-09j3v61r.
- MLA: “New York Voices; 804; In the Heights.” 2008-02-19. Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 21, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_75-09j3v61r>.
- APA: New York Voices; 804; In the Heights. Boston, MA: Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_75-09j3v61r