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[Miranda]: (music) "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 Puerto Rico? What part of me is upper Manhattan? [Music singing] New York, one voice at a time. [Street noise] [Man's voice[: New York Voices. [Announcer[: New York Voices is made possible by the members of Thirteen. Additional funding by Michael T. Martin and Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown. [Roman] Welcome toNew York Voices. I'm Rafael Pi Roman. 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 to
Irish to Dominican ,Cuban and Puerto Rican. The 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 speak with the creator and star of "In The Heights", Lin-Manuel Miranda between rehearsals.(Music and dance counts) Lin-Manual how did "In the Heights" come to be? [Miranda]: Uh, I started writing "In The Heights" when I was 19 years old. Uh I was a sophomore at Wesleyan University. Um, I've written a couple of one act plays, uh, in high school and, um, I mean I guess the short answer is I'm 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 uh were all suddenly in the middle of the suburbs (laughs) and found themselves clinging to each other and missing bodegas and missing missing the City. So I wrote the kind of show I'd want to be in. [Roman] So how much has it changed from the college production to the soon to be Broadway? [Miranda]: There are five notes that survived, in Washington Heights. [Laughter] That's what has lived from 2000 til now. Uh, there's a lot of chord progressions a lot of the music has stayed the same. Um I don't think there are any songs that survive. [Roman] Could you give me a brief synopsis of "In The Heights." [Miranda] [Miranda]: Sure um " In the Heights" is the story of uh 2 days on this corner of Washington Heights, New York which is in upper Manhattan. Take the A to the top. Um and we see the story through the eyes of the ?Usenabi? who is a Dominican bodega owner who, you know, he has his corner bodega, and all the stories passed through his bodega. We learn the story of Nina who is 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 uh Benny who works for her parents at their taxi dispatch on the corner. We meet Daniella, Carla and Vanessa who work in the salon next door, Vanessa being Usnavi's longtime unrequited uh love interest. Uh, we have someone who hit Labonita 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 um; 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 uh,and we're really trying to capture the flavor of this neighborhood before it changes. [Music] (Music from the show) [Roman]: Let me ask you. You said that the music that's inspired the music
of "In The Heights" was a soundtrack of your life. [Miranda]: Yes. [Roman] I wonder specifically how the story of "In The Heights" reflects your personal experience. [Miranda]: It's sort of a funhouse mirror version. My parents um were both born in Puerto Rico. I had uh an abluela who was not my abuela. She raised my father actually made up??in Puerto Rico. She was his babysitter, and when my parents both came here, my dad got involved in politics, as you know, and uh 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. Uh, 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. (music from show) [Roman] You know I recently interviewed the wonderful young Dominican writer, Junot Diaz.
[Miranda]: His book I, I must have given out 20 copies of that book [Roman]: It's fantastic. [Roman] 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's home. Cuba's home. Washington Heights is home. I wonder if you,although you were born here, do you feel that what Junot Diaz is tallking about reflects your experience. Is this an issue for you, where you belong? [Miranda]: 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 um "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 Puerto Rico? What part of me is upper Manhattan? (Music) [Man]: The music of "In The Heights" which is a combination of salsa, merengue, ?? hip-hop and the other things brings a new voice, will bring a new voice to Broadway. You have also somehow managed to preserve the traditions of the Broadway musical. (vocal from show) We only joke is they broke this. (Woman singing from the show) ([Singing continues) [Miranda]: 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. Uh 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 uh certainly most Latinos. And uh 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 merged a little more. Regardless of the genre of music, I've always been attracted to music to tell stories whether it's (need a Spanish translator) in the 70s or (???) 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 a,a, an incredible story, a harrowing story. I always saw it all as storytelling, and I never saw any of it is mutually exclusive. [Ramon]: But this a knowledge or this acquaintance that you have with the traditional Broadway musical comes from your parents.
[Miranda]: It comes from my parents, and it also comes from being a theater nerd in high school. [Ramon]: And I'm talking about your father, Luis Miranda, [Miranda]: Yes. [Ramon]: I've known him for more than 20 years. He's a brilliant guy. You know, a very respected member of the Hispanic community in the City and beyond, but you know, I've 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 singing and to dance? [Miranda]: Well, [Ramon]: How do you put these things together? [Miranda]: I hate to say it because I hate to make his head any bigger than it 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 a, he and my aunt (???) his sister, they were the ones who gather around the piano at every party, and they would start singing the old songs, Old San Juan and all those tunes. And my dad, at any party, is the guy who will dance with every person in that room. [Ramon]: I just missed those parties. [Miranda]: You missed those parties. You should have come over. They were good, great. But, yeah, no I got it from him. [Ramon]: 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 this play? [Miranda]: Um, you know, [Ramon]: To get that fit. [Miranda]: It's a, it's very hard; it's very hard. 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 two 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. (music) (music continues) (music) Chris Jackson has been with the role since 2002, and with Robin deJesus, I mean Robin deJesus can land any line in the world, and so [Ramon]: He's unbelieveable. [Miranda]: you know him and Andrea Burns as well, so a [Ramon]: Yeah, all these guys girls. (music) [Miranda} I consider Priscilla Lopez the reason we're all here. I mean I think Morales, the role in A Chorus Line in 1975 is one of the most realistic and three dimensional Latino
characters we have in the musical theater. [Ramon]: As the writer of the play do you ever find yourself,uh,uh distracted on stage by focusing on other people the way that they're delivering your lines or singing your songs? [Miranda]: Yeah that happened a little in previews when we were 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 1 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 number 1 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. But she 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 till after the show was over. [Ramon]: You know one of the most touching things for me in In the Heights was its 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 Inutil captures that so well grabs and your heart. (song, Inutil) "I will not be the reason That my family can succeed. I will do. What it takes. or all my work, all my life I will have been useless." [Ramon]: And of course there's the perennial abuela. We all had an abuela back in the island somewhere you know the person who takes care of everybody no matter if they're related to them or not. As somebody who grew up in a Hispanic culture, boy that was as familiar to me as (???). I wonder what your experience has
been with non Latinos? Have they felt the same kind of identification? [Miranda]: Yeah, well you know one of the one of the most validating things about the one 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 captured 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. Um, and I think relates to anyone in this country. [Ramon]: Now as you said you've been working on this for 8 years now, on and off. More on than off. [Miranda]: This has been my young adult life. (laughs) [Ramon]: Do you ever say to yourself, "Geez, I wish I could do something else. When am I going to get to do something else?"
[Miranda]: If I ever felt done, I think I would say that. (laughter) I haven't felt done yet. You know I think, I think we are so close to um.. 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 uh I made big changes today, and my list of changes is getting shorter and shorter. Uh,so I think I probably feel a little like J.K. Rowling did around Book 7. (laughter) I've, I've spent a long time writing it an enormous time. I never felt, I never felt tired of it. I'm doing what I love to do. [Ramon]: 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. 9cast members laughing) 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 this. How do you do it? How did you do it fo,r for this play? [Cast member]: I play this, this elderly lady that, that holds everybody in that, counsels people, in that 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. [Ramon]: How about you, Priscilla? [Lopez]: Well, um, I played Nina's mother, and a, I'm a mother myself of children who are about Nina's age. And um 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. [Gonzalez]: 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. Um, and I have a deep level of respect for where I come from, from my roots. Then it's that struggle of trying to hold on to that. And still progress forward into your dreams and making it all safe together. [Ramon]: And Chris, you've been with the play since 2002. [Jackson]: The line between Benny and me is so blurry right now.(laughter) ? We've got a special guest. (singing from the show) (continued singing) Benny is the embodiment just like Nina is. There's so much that Benny is trying to say. Then sometimes he can help accomplishes it, and sometimes he doesn't. [Ramon]: What attracted you to this play? Was it the identification with the Hispanic culture. The music is so... The way Lin-Manuel Miranda writes he, like I mentioned before, with such heart and passion. You just sing, You sing a line, and you just - the music carries you there. [singing] ...Singing to friends. [singing] Finally got a job working as a maid. So we clean
some homes. Polishing with pride. Scrubbing the whole of the Upper East Side. The days into weeks, the weeks into years, and here I stay. (Paciencia y fe.) [female actor] 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 Abuela Claudia. 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 gatherings and we don't throw them away. [Other female actor] We honor them [First female actor] We honor them. [Roman] The reason I ask is because all four of you have, as they say, crossed over. You've done roles that have nothing to do with Latinos, with African-Americans. You've done roles that anybody from any ethnic background or racial background could have done. And that seems to me, from what I read, that that's the ideal for an actor not to be pigeonholed ethnically. [all answer] Definitely. That's right. Exactly.
Yet, you're chosen to do roles that are so Latino. [Female actor] 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 I'm on stage with, with so many different people, so many different ethnicities. I mean Karen Olivo and, you know, I would never be able to share a stage with her. But in this show I can. [music from the show] "A little off the top, a little off the sides, a little bit of news you've heard around. the barrio. Tell me something I don't know." [male actor] It's not often that you get to take such a personal stake in a show. Period. Um. It's something that I, I literally wake up thinking, and every time I go in the stage door, is like, what we do can change people's lives. I remember when I when I started college the kids that I was in school with said, "I got to go see 'A Chorus 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" or whatever. And it isn't, it, 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. [Roman] It's what you said, Olga. 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 have responded to this. It's a universal appeal. [Female actor] It's so American. I mean, that's, we all came here. And like so many people that came to the show off-Broadway said, "That's my story." And they're not Latino or anything. And I, I think that it's the American story. The American Dream. We're all [Other female actor] It's the immigrant story. [Female actor] Yeah. Well, part of that. Yeah. [Other female actor] So,I mean like all of them. What attracted me first was the music. The music just made me crazy. I went, Huh? What? So that was the first time. [Roman] It's hard to forget once you hear it. [Female actor] Oh, yeah. [Male actor] Nobody's talking this way in the theater. The entire vocabulary of the streets, of the city, of the
country has changed. And yet, we've, and I wouldn't say to our detriment, but as, as the theater, theatrical community, we've preserved 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. [Roman] But that's what the reviewers say. It's a new voice. But, you know, at the same time. maintaining the tradition of the Broadway which, which, makes it so universally right. [male actor] But hip hop is New York. New York is hip hop. And the idea of not having explored that in 20 plus years, is really, is really interesting. [Other actors] It's such a brilliant way. Yeah. [Male actor]Well, you know, it's certainly been, you know, crafted. And it certainly is, is an amazing way to, to tell the story. Which is the essence of what this is, in the spirit of what hip hop has always been. [Hip hop from show] "I'm like $1, $2, $1.50, $1.69. I got it. You want a box of condoms? What kind? That's 2 quarters. 2 quarter waters. The New York Times, you need a bag for that? The tax is added. Once you get some practice at it. You do rapid mathematics automatically. Sellin' maxi pads, fuzzy dice
for taxi cabs. Practically everybody's stressed. Yes! But they press through the mess, bounce checks. I wonder what's next. [Ensemble] In the Heights, I buy my coffee and I look. I buy my coffee and set my sights on only what I need to know. (What I need to know) In the Heights!" [female actor] You know, I imagine them as the audience. And they're sitting going, "Huh?" You know, they kind of listen, then they realize they have to really listen. And then, he captures their ears. And then once he's got them he cranks it up a little more, then a little more, and then once, and then they're on this ride. [clip from show in rehearsal] [female actor] Say "your" [Miranda] Say "our" [female] I'll make it happen [Miranda, singing] Say our goodbyes. [Roman] Do you ever feel like you have to give in something, some places? [Female actor] Oh yeah, absolutely. [Roman] And he's open to it?
[Female actor] Absolutely. [Roman] Yeah? How have you told him? [Female actor] Just, my character, in general just gives him a lot of, you know. [Roman] That's true. Yeah. [Female actor] You mean, we as the people? Or as actors? [Roman] As actors, have given him a, you know, tips. [Female actor] Feedback? [Male actor] Lin doesn't need tips. Lin is the smartest person in the world. The best thing to say about Lin 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. [Female actor] Right. [Male actor] 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 knows which ones to wear at the right time. I've done a thousand performances with Lin. I mean in various other things I've collaborated with him. And Lin, just, he's just like anybody else. As soon as those lights come up, he has the ability to just tell the truth. [Roman] It's no different for you to? [Male actor] That's Acting 101 right there. I mean, that's, that's really that's as much as you need to be as great as... [Roman] You don't, you don't feel different as actors to be performing along another performer who also happens to be the writer of the play? [Female actor] Yes. I do when I have to hit wrong notes, and I'm singing to the
composer going 'ah,a,ah.' But I finally conquered them. But it was like... [Other female actor] But he gives you the look of support. [Female actor] But I realize now, it is a look of support. [Other female actor] It is! [Female actor] But I thought it was a look of criticism. And he'd go Like, [sound]. But I finally got it down. [Roman] When did you know that, when you were performing off-Broadway, when did you know that this was going to Broadway? Did you know it from the beginning? [Female actor] You know it from the, uh, our first audition together for the workshop together. She's like, "We're going to Broadway!" (laughs) [Other female actor] I never remember saying that. [Female actor] I do! I remember we were like sitting outside. So, I don't know, I thought it 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 were like, "We're going to Broadway!" And we all signed it. [Other female actor] I mean the women, we're on the same, we did the Creative Visualization Secret. [Female actor] We were all in the same dressing room, you know. 11 women, 11 men. I mean, we were in different dressing rooms. But, you know, so we all bonded together. We were like "We're going." We were very bonded [Other female actor] I think in terms of the reality of, you know, outside
of ourselves, the fact that when we would finish our performances and there was a crowd waiting. The audience waited. [Roman] As it happens, today you did your first rehearsal with a full orchestra. [Actors] Yeah! It was awesome! [Roman] And I wasn't there, but my producer tells me that, uh, just before each one of you went up to sing you were hugging each other and at the end, Lin Manuel cried at the end of the last number and your producer, who is an old veteran, cried as well. What is this? [Actors] Love. Love. [Roman] Yeah? [Female actor] I know it sounds so corny, but it's just like I think it's a real, uh, first of all it's a company that is truly united. You know? In one path. And is truly supportive of everybody. There's no kinda - it's the journey. [Other female actor] The journey and we made it. [Female actor] that we've been going on, and seeing the realization of it all coming, you know, just continuing down that path. It's kind of like when Dorothy goes down the Yellow Brick Road. She keeps collecting people, you know. It gets bigger and bigger.
[Other female actor singing] We are a family. [Female actor] The Emerald City! [music from the show] You hear that music in the air? Take a train to the top of the world and I'm there. I'm home! And that's it for this edition of New York Voices. For more on tonight's program, or to see extended interviews with Lin-Manuel or the cast log onto our website at I'm Rafael Pi Roman. Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time. [In the Heights music plays] In the Heights, I flip the lights and start my day. There are fights and endless nights and bills to pay. In the Heights! New York Voices is made possible by the Members of 13. Additional funding by Michael T. Morton, and Elise Jaffe, and Jeffrey Brown.
New York Voices
Episode Number
In the Heights
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Thirteen WNET
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Thirteen WNET (New York, New York)
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Episode Description
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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New York Voices is a news magazine made up of segments featuring profiles and interviews with New Yorkers talking about the issues affecting New York.
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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)
Identifier: wnet_aacip_31183 (WNET Archive)
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Chicago: “New York Voices; 804; In the Heights,” 2008-02-19, Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 25, 2024,
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APA: New York Voices; 804; In the Heights. Boston, MA: Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from