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Lauren J. Rivera Headshot

"Tony" Goes Home to the Heights

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Once upon a time I met this guy. Said guy was the creative type and humbly charming, and although our meeting was momentary, the occurrence would later pop up from my memory as a vivid memento. Ten years after that introduction, through the grapevine known as the every-Latino-knows-each-other-somehow-chain, I found out about an off-Broadway musical called In the Heights.

"Miranda's son created it, he's in it too," my mother told me. She was referencing Luis Miranda Jr., who had been the boss of my first boyfriend. It was then I realized I'd met the son, Lin-Manuel Miranda, back when we were kids at a company holiday party (and by kids I mean teenagers, not pacifier suckers). "Ah, I remember him," I told my mom, "we chatted at one of his father's parties. He was a cool dude." At the time I wasn't aware this one statement would become a highly embellished story created by my mother. As we met up with other family members to catch a weekend show of In the Heights at the 37 Arts Theatre, my mother's opening line was, "Lauren knows the creator and star of the show!" Gulp. So not true! But everyone was staring at me like I was so cool that all I could do was shrug my shoulders and smile. Later, after the spectacular show ended, I would have to dodge my entire family to exit the theatre in efforts to deflect any requests to help them meet Miranda. I survived.

The following March In the Heights opened on Broadway at the Richard Rogers Theatre and I'll admit I was a tinge nervous about the gamble the show would take. The last Latino production to hit Broadway was Capeman which had flopped miserably. As much as people would like to pretend In the Heights would be regarded the same as any other new show on Broadway, all of us Latinos were crossing our fingers in hopes it would make it past any ethnicity barriers. Even I'll admit that when I attended the show in March, I was more than surprised to see such a mixed audience. With a few story and song changes since the off-Broadway version, this new production with its ethnically diverse cast transported its audience into a world of song and sound that was pleasing regardless of whether or not you could interpret every word.

Not only is the show a fresh look for Broadway (love Rent but seriously, how many more times can one hear 525,600 Minutes?), it was created by a young, ubertalented man who just happens to be Puerto Rican and its story revolves around the neighborhood of Washington Heights which has, in the last year, become my second home. The success of Miranda, who was actually born and raised in the neighborhood of Inwood, New York (just blocks from Washington Heights), rejuvenates the ambitious efforts of neighboring artists in Upper Manhattan. Production companies are reminded that striving to bring their talent beyond the borders of New York City is no longer a farfetched dream. Michael Diaz, CEO of Heights Entertainment, which finds its home on 178th Street and produces independent films and projects like Room 28 Comedy, said of the show's success, "It's boosted my drive knowing there are no limitations. At the end of the day quality entertainment is quality entertainment, Latino or not."

As I watched the Tony Awards last night, I kept asking my boyfriend if he heard the same outrageous applause every time In the Heights was nominated or if it was all my imagination. He assured me I wasn't nuts. Good boyfriend. Good. I crossed my fingers during the presentation of the award for Best Score and then heard someone scream when Miranda's name was said afterward. I looked around wondering where the scream came from and was quickly told it had been me. From the level of my excitement, you would have thought he was my cousin. Maybe I just feel connected based on the fact that he shared views similar to those I wrote in my blog about VH1's Viva Hollywood when he was quoted in Time Out New York magazine saying the show "sets our people back 40 years."

Blood or not, I'm overwhelmingly proud of In the Heights and of Miranda whose unconventional acceptance rap-speech delivered the kind of entertainment similar to that of the Broadway show he created. With four Tony awards won by the end of the evening, including the coveted award for Best Musical, the show may easily become one of Broadway's best musicals ever. And where do you go from there? Who knows, but you can be sure I'm in to watch it all unfold.