Making it in New York City is tough. Few get the chance to live out their dreams, and the cast and crew of In the Heights know this all too well. This young, diverse group of relatively unknown artists and performers have dreamed of making it on Broadway, but are well aware that a new original musical set outside a bodega in the Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights is a highly risky proposition. It took eight years in all, but they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, winning four Tony Awards along the way, including Best Musical and Best Score for a Musical. In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams chronicles the personal stories of composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of In the Heights in the months leading up to opening night.
The program premieres Wednesday, May 27 at 8 p.m. (ET) on THIRTEEN’s Great Performances on PBS HD (check local listings).
Great Performances is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG – one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.
For Miranda, bringing In the Heights to life began when he was a sophomore at Wesleyan College. Having grown up as a first generation American in one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York City, Miranda always struggled to find his identity and place in life. Writing about the stories, sacrifices and sounds of the people from his neighborhood was a way to share his experience. “When I saw Rent, it was the first time I’d seen a musical that took place now,” recounted Miranda. “A light bulb went off and it was like ‘oh, you can write a musical that’s about you, about your life.’ If you had told me it’d take eight years to finish [In the Heights] I probably would have been too scared to continue.”
In addition to thrilling extended performance sequences of the original cast of In the Heights onstage at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, this Great Performances program offers an intimate look at the production backstage and off-stage. Producers from @radical.media first identified the show’s potential at one of the early readings, and began filming the process shortly thereafter. This provides unprecedented access to the cast as they went through workshops, to off-Broadway, and finally to Broadway. Karen Olivo (Miranda’s on-stage love interest, who is now starring in a new version of West Side Story as “Anita”), describes her dedication to performing as more like an “addiction”; Mandy Gonzalez finds that her real life experience growing up with immigrant parents mirrors that of her character Nina; and Seth Stewart (Graffiti Pete), who has struggled to balance his love of dancing with his football career, is emotionally overwhelmed by seeing his image seven stories tall in Times Square. For Broadway veteran Priscilla Lopez (Camila), it is a journey back in time, as she recalls how her role in the original cast of A Chorus Line changed her life, while for Chris Jackson (Benny), the stakes are extremely high, as the success or failure of the show will directly impact how he can provide for his family, which includes an autistic child. These disparate stories all come together in the rehearsal hall and onstage, as the In the Heights company takes Broadway by storm with their high octane song and dance numbers.
In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams is a @radical.media production for THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is Series Producer, Michael Kantor (Broadway: The American Musical, Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America) is consulting producer; David Horn is Executive Producer.
Great Performances is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, Vivian Milstein, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public television viewers, and PBS. Major funding is also provided by the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust.