Many who saw Emmy winner Jharrel Jerome in Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us may have felt the Bronx-born actor looked familiar. He’d had a pivotal role in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, after all. But Lin-Manuel Miranda had to reach further back to find out where he’d first seen the Dominican-American actor. As the Tony winner realized during the Emmy awards when he met the Jerome in person, he’d actually seen the young performer in a high school production of — you won’t believe it — In the Heights!
I meet the brilliant @JharrelJerome, who looked SO familiar in @ava’s heartbreaking work of art, @WhenTheySeeUs.
He tells me, “I don’t know if you remember me, but you came to my high school performance of In The Heights, I played Usnavi.”
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) September 23, 2019
As a student at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (aka the very school that inspired the movie Fame), Jerome played the very role that Miranda created and originated on Broadway and which Anthony Ramos is set to play on the big screen: Usnavi. Both narrator and lead character of the New York City-set musical, Usnavi is the heart of In the Heights, so playing him requires not just a charismatic performer but a master rapper.
For those of us who didn’t get to see Jerome tackle this iconic character on the stage, a video of rehearsals and performances from that high school production are still available online. So if you ever wanted to see the first-ever Afro-Latino to win an Emmy Award for acting tackle the musical’s titular song, look no further. And when you’re done, start hoping that this serves as an audition reel. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see him starring in a full-blown musical after seeing this?