Broadway Features and Reviews
"In The Heights" Up-Close Tony Experience
By Julie Elizabeth Buntin, Broadway Magazine
This year, the belle of the TONY Awards is definitely In the Heights. This hip-hop, salsa, and rap infused musical brings the upper Manhattan barrio to life onstage, and its young cast and fresh sound are generating a lot of buzz among audiences and critics. Some are calling the show Broadway's RENT replacement. In the Heights certainly is new, hip, and relevant, and its 13 TONY nominations are a testament to the show's popularity. It snatched a nod in almost every musical category possible---- best musical, best direction, best orchestration, best score, best actress in a musical, best actor in a musical, best choreography, best scenic design---- the list goes on, and on, and on.
The musical's appeal hinges on a couple of factors. Firstly, creator and lead actor Lin-Manuel Miranda is impossible to resist. Charming, talented, passionate: he has star-quality galore plus the true-life background to spin a moving story. Miranda's story is about his home, the Spanish-speaking neighborhood Washington Heights, where people struggle for their dreams in a musical that doesn't sound like anything else on Broadway. That's where the second magic factor comes in. The songs are made of the same addictive stuff that got the Rent soundtrack spinning every preteen's CD player. This is music that electrifies, that plays on a loop in your head, that makes you want to dance. Throw in a stunning set and you've got fireworks.
We got the chance to catch up with the people responsible for putting the show together. Besides Lin-Manuel Miranda, a lot of brilliant people stitched the seams that made In the Heights shine. Without them, the show wouldn't have survived its transformation from conception to promising off-Broadway show to brilliant TONY nominated musical. At a press reception for TONY nominees we spoke with book writer Quiara Alegria Hudes, scenic designer Anna Louizos, and orchestration team Bill Sherman and Alex Lacamoire to get an inside look at In the Heights.
NOMINATED FOR BEST ORCHESTRATION...
Bill Sherman and Alex Lacamoire created the heartbeat of In the Heights. The duo began working on the show's music during their college days at Wesleyan University, where they were friends with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sherman and Lacamoire were happy to spill the beans about their hard work and what this TONY nomination means to them. "I'm just coasting for a while," said Sherman. "It's great to get attention for orchestration. We went to college together and have been working on the show ever since… I heard once it takes seven years to put on a musical and I think that's true."
Lacamoire continued, "Since the show was born we've killed off three characters, and none of the original songs are in the current version of the show. Only four notes are still there—In the heights."
NOMINATED FOR BEST BOOK OF A MUSICAL...
Quiara Alegria Hudes knows what success feels like. She's adding her TONY nomination to an already impressive list of accomplishments. Hudes is a graduate of Yale and Brown, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2007 for her play Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue. She's also a resident writer at New Dramatists. So where was she when she learned of her latest triumph?
"We found out about the TONY nominations when we were getting ready for a live television performance… the press guys brought the sheets just before we went on. It was totally surreal," Hudes said. "It was a dream to get this far. Totally beyond our expectations."
The inspiration for the book came partly from Hudes's own past, which contributes to the musical's friendly, familiar quality. Even if we don't actually know these characters, it's easy to imagine knowing them. "They are family stories, fueled by what I know. The stories and voices of my mother, sister, and friends…" Hudes explained. "I really tried to get a sense of the reality of this life. What does it feel like to be part of the bodega, part of the stoop."
NOMINATED FOR BEST SCENIC DESIGN...
Anna Louizos was at home watching New York One when she found about her TONY nomination. It didn't come from her publicist, or a news source, or in the form of a ringing, urgent call. She simply got a text from her friend. This nomination marks the second time Louizos is up for a TONY. Her first nod for scenic design was the result of her work last year on High Fidelity.
In the Heights immediately sparked Louizos's creativity. "When I first read the play and heard the music, I thought this set needs to move from one place to another," she said. "But everyone said no way. Sometimes you need to get the costs down and be practical."
With that idea out of the picture Louizos set out to build a set evoking the neighborhood. It worked--- the scenic design for In the Heights seems directly lifted from a city block. Storefront awnings perfectly capture the hues of bright plastic gone grayish under years of city grime, and streetlamps and stickers flaking off doors attest to the sense of detail Louizos imparts on her work. "I did a lot of research and used tons of sketches and photographs. I focused on the details in the photographs to extrapolate parts of the neighborhood… I also knew the bridge was going to be central in the set." Louizos's George Washington Bridge looms up in the background of the stage, the metaphorical and physical center of the story.
For Louizos, the show's appeal has to do with the way this story corresponds to the larger picture. "[In the Heights] is personally universal," she said. "We are all American immigrants in some way, and can all relate to that experience."