Miranda’s ‘In the Heights’ trans­lates

Span­ish ver­sion of the star lyri­cist’s first hit mu­si­cal was in de­mand

The Washington Post - - ON STAGE - BY GE­OF­FREY HIMES

‘Hamil­ton” may have made Lin-Manuel Miranda a megacelebrity, but it was “In the Heights,” which opened on Broad­way in 2008, that es­tab­lished him as a mu­si­cal-the­ater com­poser. And, un­like “Hamil­ton,” “In the Heights” was au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal: Miranda grew up in the Man­hat­tan neigh­bor­hoods of In­wood and Wash­ing­ton Heights in the 1990s.

In his dia­logue as well as his songs rooted in salsa, hip-hop and Sond­heim, Miranda brought to life those neigh­bor­hoods, where Latino im­mi­grants squab­bled and dreamed of bet­ter lives in an un­ruly mix of Span­ish and English. To reach as broad an Amer­i­can au­di­ence as pos­si­ble, Miranda tilted the ra­tio of Span­ish to English words de­cid­edly in the lat­ter di­rec­tion. But some au­di­ences longed to see that re­versed.

Some wanted it so much that unau­tho­rized Span­ish ver­sions of the show started pop­ping up across Latin Amer­ica. Miranda fi­nally ap­proved a trans­la­tion into Do­mini­can Span­ish, and that’s the script hav­ing its U.S. pre­miere as “In the Heights en Es­pañol” at GALA His­panic Theatre. Shep­herd­ing the pro­duc­tion is di­rec­tor Luis Sal­gado, who not only per­formed and served as as­sis­tant chore­og­ra­pher in the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion, but also grew up in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, the same town from which Miranda’s fam­ily hails.

“A lot of peo­ple in Latin Amer­ica want to see ‘In the Heights’ be­cause Amer­i­can mu­si­cal the­ater has be­come very pop­u­lar there,” Sal­gado says. “When I grew up in Puerto Rico, our teach­ers in dance school, in mu­sic school, loved Amer­i­can mu­si­cals, be­cause they had grown up with the old films. But it has blown up now, thanks in part to YouTube, where any­one can see the dances and hear the mu­sic. When I went back to Puerto Rico, nine, 10 dance schools had sprung up since I was last there. Peru, Colom­bia, Mex­ico — it’s ex­pand­ing ev­ery­where.”

Sal­gado was one of those Latino kids who fell in love with mu­si­cals. His fa­ther wanted him to box, but he had a dif­fer­ent kind of danc­ing in mind. On the is­land, he per­formed in “Peter Pan” and “Annie,” and, at age 21, left for New York. One of his first breaks was get­ting the part of José in “In the Heights” and work­ing with chore­og­ra­pher Andy Blanken­buehler.

“I learned so much from Andy, that it was bet­ter than go­ing to col­lege,” Sal­gado re­calls. “Just as Lin changed what the­ater could do, Andy did the same thing with the chore­og­ra­phy. What I could con­trib­ute was my her­itage.” Sal­gado showed Blanken­buehler, for ex­am­ple, the moves that were a cru­cial part of Car­naval, Puerto Rico’s Mardi Gras cel­e­bra­tion.

Sal­gado went on to per­form in such Broad­way mu­si­cals as “Women on the Verge of a Ner­vous Break­down,” “Rocky” and “On Your Feet!” He was cred­ited as co-chore­og­ra­pher on the tele­vi­sion re­make of “Dirty Danc­ing” and as as­sis­tant chore­og­ra­pher on the movies “En­chanted” and “Step Up 2.” Work­ing again on “In the Heights” re-con­nects him to his launch­pad.

GALA the­ater has a stan­dard prac­tice of us­ing sur­titles in its shows, but “In the Heights en Es­pañol” will fea­ture English sur­titles for the Span­ish dia­logue and lyrics and Span­ish sur­titles for the English. Al­though most of the show is in Span­ish, it will still be bilin­gual. Af­ter all, why would Nina’s fa­ther, who in­sists that

Lovers of all things “Hamil­ton” might want to see some of the cre­ative seeds from which it sprang: “In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first mu­si­cal on Broad­way, will have its Span­ish-trans­lated script’s U.S. pre­miere at GALA His­panic Theatre. Di­rec­tor Luis Sal­gado sees par­al­lels be­tween the tales. Among them, “both are about Caribbean im­mi­grants in Amer­ica.”

she marry a Span­ish speaker, ob­ject to Benny un­less the young suitor spoke only English? Benny may be a model em­ployee at the fa­ther’s taxi com­pany, but that’s not enough.

“‘In the Heights’ brings out the re­al­ity that poverty and crim­i­nal­ity don’t have to go hand in hand,” Sal­gado points out. “There are so many mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple go to work ev­ery day and work hard with the knowl­edge that they don’t have enough money for their kids’ lunch money. That doesn’t mean you’re go­ing to go out and steal from some­body. That as­sump­tion is of­fen­sive to all the poor peo­ple who are play­ing by the rules. This show was im­por­tant for that rea­son. It doesn’t lack con­flict, be­cause the­ater can’t ex­ist with­out con­flict, but there are other con­flicts than vi­o­lence.”

In the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion of “In the Heights,” Miranda played the char­ac­ter of Us­navi, the owner of a small bodega in the neigh­bor­hood. He must bal­ance run­ning his busi­ness with tak­ing care of his ail­ing grand­mother and court­ing the beau­ti­ful Vanessa. Within that tale, you can de­tect the seeds of the style that blos­somed into “Hamil­ton.” Sal­gado sees ob­vi­ous par­al­lels.

“Both shows took seven, eight years to de­velop,” he notes. “Both are about Caribbean im­mi­grants in Amer­ica. Both use a mix of mu­si­cal styles. Both have a nar­ra­tor — Us­navi or Hamil­ton — who ex­plains the story, so the struc­ture doesn’t change much. One key dif­fer­ence, though, is that Us­navi de­scribes his own char­ac­ter, while Hamil­ton al­lows the other char­ac­ters to de­scribe him. An­other dif­fer­ence is Lin shrank the book in ‘Hamil­ton’ and made it more like an opera. He has grown so quickly that you have to won­der what his next project will be.”

In the mean­time, here’s a wel­come chance to re­visit “In the Heights” in the lan­guage of the fa­thers and grand­moth­ers who first ar­rived in the United States and paved the way for all the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren who fol­lowed. It’s a chance, Sal­gado says, to counter the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate by cel­e­brat­ing th­ese Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and what they have con­trib­uted to their new coun­try.


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