When Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” arrived on Broadway in 2008, the young playwright staked his claim to the stage. After its debut, the musical — a portrait of New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood — swept up a glistening bouquet of Tony Awards, with 13 nominations and four wins, including Best Musical.
The documentary “In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams,” now streaming on ALL ARTS, charts the months leading up to the production’s opening night at the Richard Rodgers Theater.
In addition to composing the music and lyrics, Miranda starred in the show as Usnavi, owner of De La Vega Bodega.
“‘In the Heights’ is a classic American story,” he explains early on in the film. “It’s really a celebration of this neighborhood at the top of Manhattan. It’s three days in the life. We see people fall in love. We see people fight and argue. And it’s really about these three generations sort of trying to find home and what that means to them.”
The composer began working on “In the Heights” while he was a sophomore at Wesleyan University, where he decided that he wanted to create a musical that he “would want to be in.” Around this time, he also watched “Rent.”
“It was the first time I had seen a musical that took place now,” he recalls. “And a light bulb really went off, and I was like, ‘Oh you can write a musical about you, about your life.’”
He continues: “It wasn’t till I got to Wesleyan, really, that I realized that there is a generation of us who either were born somewhere else and moved here or their parents came from somewhere else — whether it’s from Latin America or Russia or the West Indies — and don’t know where they belong and what they’re supposed to navigate and what traditions you take with you.”
At the time, over half of the cast made their Broadway debut with the show, with many of the actors going on to later take roles in Miranda’s blockbuster “Hamilton.” (Those familiar with the production will recognize Mandy Gonzalez, Karen Olivo, Christopher Jackson and Seth Stewart, among others.) Not yet living in a time where Miranda’s work has touched many aspects of popular culture, the Broadway newbies muse on what’s to come.
“This has been a very big part of my life, and it hasn’t gone away for a reason,” says Jackson, who would go on to originate the much-lauded role of President George Washington in “Hamilton.” “And I just am kind of curious now to see just what that’s going to be.”
Britt Stigler is the senior digital content editor at ALL ARTS. She can be reached at StiglerB@thirteen.org.