Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

In the Heights Dazzles Broadway

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Adapting is never easy. This is the lesson from In the Heights, a hit Broadway musical that debuted this spring. Night after night, packed theaters are witness to three days in the life of a New York City immigrant neighborhood. The production has picked up four Tony Awards, along with numerous other nominations.

The story is set in Washington Heights, an area of upper Manhattan where almost 75 percent of the population is Hispanic—mainly of Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican descent. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show’s 28-year-old star and creator, wrote it while attending Wesleyan University, during a time when he “missed the bodegas” of his hometown barrio.

His authentic portrayal gives audiences a glimpse of a world where cultures come together in the melting pot of American life. The score fuses salsa, merengue, hip-hop, and soul music. To emphasize the point, fire escapes on the set are draped with Dominican, Puerto Rican and Mexican flags. The younger generation, who dances to this musical mélange in the play, may not understand the lyrics but still consider the songs part of their fused culture. Other traditions have changed as well. Neighborhood residents grab their café con leche at a local bodega rather than wile away hours at an outdoor café.

Characters embody the struggles of a world caught between the cultures they left behind and the one being created in their new home: a man dreaming of Caribbean beaches, waiting for the day he can return, and the grandmother who still believes that all is resolved with paciencia y fé. Like immigrants everywhere, they invent a new home and create new identities, defined not so much by geography but by choice.

Tags: Broadway, In the Heights, Latino Musical, Musical, Washington Heights
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