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Original Artwork by LJ Santanello
Before he wrote the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda was a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In his sophomore year, he wrote a musical based on life in New York City. “In the Heights” went on to win four Tony Awards, showing that talent can materialize at any age and on any stage.
This week the PCC theater arts department will open a production of Miranda’s debut musical in Sexson Auditorium. With an ensemble cast, complex choreography, and a 14-piece salsa band, the musical sets a new standard for the department. “It’s not just that the cast is big,” director Karen Benjamin said. “The show is made up of several big musical numbers with lots of choreography.”
“In the Heights” follows a community of Latino Americans living in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Over the course of two and a half hours, the story shows a slice of life in the community, following its dramas and tragedies. The characters wrestle with familiar issues of tradition, family, fluctuating identity, and the changing face of present-day America. The score echoes these themes, drawing in rap, salsa, and other sounds of the city to energize and motivate the story.
The production required a major commitment from students and the production team. Music director Kyle Luck started working through the score during the winter intersession, so that by the time the spring semester started they would have the songs solidly under their belts. “The cast met twice a week to do all music for a month before the semester started,” Benjamin said. Since mid-February Benjamin has been living in a whirlwind of activity to get the set done, coordinate the costume and lighting design, and stage the show.
Choreography has been another major focus for the cast. Benjamin brought aboard Marissa Herrera, who has staged the show many times and appeared in the West Coast premiere. Herrera has insisted on making the production pop, pushing the student performers to set a high standard, both on- and offstage. “There’s a ton of athletic professionalism to pulling this off,” Benjamin said. “You've got to condition, eat right, and stay hydrated. The students are learning about what it takes to perform at this level.”
As Benjamin enters the final stretch of rehearsals ahead of opening night, she is reflective about the journey that’s brought the cast and crew to this point. Like the community at the center of the story, Benjamin has witnessed a community come together around the experience of getting the musical to the Sexson stage. “Rehearsing ‘In the Heights’ has created a wonderful communal feeling within the cast and production team. This show really brings everyone together.”
All shows are in the Sexson Auditorium. Ticket Price: $20/15.
Purchase tickets, CASH ONLY, at the Center for the Arts Box Office. Box Office opens one hour before performance.
Purchase $2.00 parking permit from parking lot vending machine.
Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Karen Benjamin, director
Kyle Luck, musical conductor
Marissa Herrera, choreographer
In The Heights tells the universal story of a vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood – a place 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. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind. IN THE HEIGHTS is the winner of the 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations. http://www.mh.com.
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