“In The Heights,” the musical written by Lin Manuel Miranda based on the book written by Quiara Alegria Hudes is set is in Washington Heights, Queens, a predominantly Latino community that is beginning to be gentrified. The main character of Usnavi, a Dominican immigrant is the heart of the barrio (neighborhood). He owns the main bodega in the community. When his grandmother wins the lottery, he begins to think about how he can change his own life.
“In The Heights” is a musical of change. The characters are fluid and as they grow, the audience is able to grow with them. This musical was my introduction to theatre, composition and the Spanish language. When I found out it would be playing at the Rialto Center for the Arts in downtown Atlanta, I had to go! The production was as amazing. It was well-cast and it avoided the embarrassment of mispronounced Spanish words. I even forgot that the characters were not real people. Diego Klock-Perez, who played Usnavi, disproved my assumption that no one could ever embody Usnavi like Lin-Manuel Miranda. He delivered every lyric and every moment like I imagined Usnavi would.
The audience was different than what I thought it would be, too. This is a musical about uplifting and strengthening your community to protect it from continuous economic destruction. So it surprised me to see that most of the audience were older Caucasian people. At first I thought, “How can they understand the context of this musical if they are not of the generation that is being represented or do not understand this oppression?” Then I realized this is exactly what the musical is meant to do. If people can see others’ stories being told, they can start to understand them. Understanding leads to empathy, and empathy leads to change.
After all, this is the essence of Miranda’s latest musical, “Hamilton.” “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story,” he writes. This is why representation is important. The more diverse stories you can hear, the more you can connect to them, thus seeing the common humanity in them. When I asked “In The Heights” actor Garrett Turner, who played Benny, the black man in the barrio who falls in love with Nina, a Latina, what he thinks about the new era of musicals having more diverse stories and roles, he replied, “It’s great. As artists we are crafting the industry right now. Lin-Manuel wrote ‘In The Heights’ because he could not find a role he felt represented what he believed. The arc of this new era matches the arc of the civil rights movement.”
This reminded me that art can be a powerful tool and perhaps, this is why we are seeing an increase in diverse narratives during this modern civil rights movement. “In The Heights” is more than just a musical. It teaches everyone that if you are unhappy with your situation, change it. This can apply to all aspects of life. So I leave you, the reader, with this: Do not limit yourself. Do not fall victim to your circumstances; instead, create the world you want to live in.
Samaria R. Driver is a junior at Riverwood International Charter School and is an aspiring computer programmer, musician and writer.
Related Story: Rebecca also reviewed “In the Heights.” Check it out!
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