Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton may be his most recognizable work, but it’s his breakthrough In the Heights show that the GALA Hispanic Theatre believes its community needs during these trying political times. That’s why the Washington DC-based theater will produce a Spanish version of the show.
From 2008 to 2011, In the Heights – which Miranda wrote the music and lyrics for – ran on Broadway. Set in the predominantly Dominican NYC neighborhood of Washington Heights, the musical follows a group of Latinos struggling – whether it’s to pay rent or attend school – amidst looming gentrification.With these real-life issues taking center stage in the musical, GALA co-founder Hugo Medrano saw traces of Columbia Heights. “We really wanted to bring the piece to Washington,” Medrano told the Washingtonian. “It is very much close to our community and it relates to the story of a dream of many Latinos in this country.”
As President Donald Trump and his administration spew hate and harm communities of color with their policies, Medrano wants the audience to know that they can persevere in the face of adversity. Changing the location from Manhattan to DC also means that there’s references to Salvadoran and Mexican communities, adding a little Columbia Heights in the mix. Medrano calls the DC neighborhood “much more diverse [and] multicultural” than Washington Heights. They also decided to produce the show in Spanish, because it’s a reflection of the world they live in.
“In West Side story you not only have Latinos, you have the Jets,” Espinal, who plays lead character Usnavi, told DCist. “Here, we’re talking about the Latino community. If you did this story in real life, it would be in Spanish.” This time around, it’s not Spanish speakers who have to try to keep up; it’s everyone else.
This isn’t the first time an all-Spanish-language In the Heights has run. In 2014, professor and composer Amaury Sánchez translated the show and music. Medrano bought the rights to the show from both Sánchez and Miranda. And even though things change when they go from one language to another, the dynamic Latino characters remain.
“As a director, I think it’s a great exercise to simply celebrate who we are without having to limit ourselves to drug dealers,” said Luis Salgado, who is also the show’s choreographer. “We’re celebrating the truth of these people being who they are. For me in the atmosphere that we’re living in today, that is political, because we have to ask ourselves, ‘what is it to be an American?'”
In the Heights opens today and will run until May 21, 2017 at the GALA Theatre, 3333 14th Street NW. Tickets cost $60.