Musical of the Month: In the Heights

January is a slow month in Pittsburgh for the opening dates of musicals except for the national tour of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton at the Benedum through the end of the month. As Hamilton departs our city, Pittsburgh Musical Theatre is offering us an opportunity to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s previous work, In the Heights, starting January 24th, as part of PMT’s Rockin’ West End Series at the Gargaro Theater. Heights after Hamilton gives you an opportunity to appreciate the evolution of Miranda’s considerable skills as Heights foreshadows the tremendous impact Miranda and Hamilton would come to have on musical theatre.

Set in the tight-knit community of the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, this is a place a where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. The story begins on the hottest day of the summer. Usnavi de la Vega, the owner of the bodega introduces the audience to the corner he lives on and some of its many residents: Abuela Claudia, a matriarchal figure who helped to raise Usnavi; Daniela and Carla, who run the local salon; and Kevin and Camila Rosario, who run the cab company.

Today is lottery jackpot day with the community full of hopes and dreams fueled by the thought of the riches a winning ticket could bring. Nina, the Rosarios’ daughter, has just arrived home from her first year at Stanford University. Often considered the “one who made it out” and the pride of the corner, Nina dreads telling her parents and neighbors the truth of her return home: that she dropped out of Stanford having had to work two jobs to maintain her tuition, leading to her getting poor grades and losing her scholarship. Lottery mania reaches a fever pitch when it is discovered that their bodega sold a winning ticket. Will the winner stay in the Heights or move away? Which traditions do you take with you, and which ones do you leave behind? The characters chase the American dream in hip-hop, pop, and Latin rhythms filled with the vibrant energy of the ever-bustling streets of Manhattan.

Miranda wrote the earliest draft of In the Heights in 1999, his sophomore year of college. After the show was accepted by Wesleyan University’s student theater company Second, Miranda added “freestyle rap … bodegas, and salsa numbers.” It played from April 27 to 29, 2000. After seeing the play, three Wesleyan seniors and one alumnus approached Miranda and asked if the play could be expanded to a Broadway production.  A new version of In the Heights was presented at the National Music Theater Conference in July of 2005 at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. The musical then opened Off-Broadway, running from February through July in 2007. The Off-Broadway production was nominated for nine Drama Desk Awards, winning two, as well as winning the Outer Critics’ Circle Award for Outstanding Musical. The musical premiered on Broadway with the official opening on March 9, 2008, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. In the Heights won four Tony Awards in 2008, including Best Musical and a Grammy in 2009 for Original Cast recording. With Miranda playing the lead in the Broadway opening, In the Heights brought the considerable talents of its creator and original star to full public attention.

PMT’s production of the In the Heights is directed by Pittsburgh native and Point Park graduate and actress Erin Lindsey KromJerreme Rodriguez, last seen in the CLO Cabaret’s Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, is the show’s choreographer.  Rodriguez is also an Alumni of Point Park. Brent Alexander is Music Director. Alexander is PMT’s primary Musical Director, Resident Artist, and Music Coordinator.  Dr. Alexander recently joined the faculty of the Carnegie.  The PMT production stars Morgan Jade Kirksey as Nina with TJ Newton as Usnavi.

Performances are January 24th, 25th, 26th, February 1st, and 2nd at 7:30 pm with Sunday matinees on January 27th, and February 3rd at 2:00 pm. For tickets click here.

George Hoover got his start in theatre in Miami when his family ran the Coconut Grove Playhouse. His career encompasses a variety of work in both the design and technical side of motion pictures, live theatre, and television. George is a three-time Emmy Award winner, member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, Broadcasting & Cable Technology Leadership Award winner, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers Life Fellow, and most importantly a passionate theatre person and generally handy guy.

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