Last week, Towleroad correspondent Josh Helmin sat down with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the 27-year-old creator and star of the new hit Off-Broadway musical In the Heights. Set in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights over one fateful Fourth of July weekend, Heights follows the trajectory of two love stories and the results of one lucky lottery ticket. With some of the most thoughtful lyrics that New York has heard since Avenue Q (according to New York magazine), energetic performances, inspired choreography and costuming, In the Heights is a sexy, fresh, funny, and moving addition to the musical theater canon. Amid the seats at 37 Arts Theater in midtown Manhattan, where In the Heights is currently playing, Miranda (who is straight) talked to Josh about the show's gay plotline that was written out, the future of the American musical, and the seven-year journey to Off-Broadway — that may just lead to the Tonys.
What would you say is the essence of In the Heights? What's it really about?
I think the show is about home, and I know that's the corniest thing in the world, but I grew up here [in New York], my parents were born in Puerto Rico, but I didn't know what I was supposed to do here. I had heard about Puerto Rico as this paradise and I spent every summer there. I was like, 'Am I supposed to be here, am I supposed to be there, and if I'm supposed to be here am I really Puerto Rican?' Where's home is really the big ol' question, I think.
So you're the creator of the show. This is your baby. Take me back to your undergraduate years when you wrote In the Heights.
I had been doodling In the Heights in all my notebooks in college. I had written a song or two [and] I applied for the student-run theater space at Wesleyan [University]. That winter break I locked myself up and wrote everything I knew about. I grew up in Inwood, but I wanted to write about Washington Heights, this really dynamic landscape, and I grew up in the neighborhood. The music was very Washington Heights—it was salsa, merengue, hip-hop, and all that stuff that's still in the show—but [originally] it was not so much about the community as it was about a love triangle. It was this tortured love story. Nina had a brother named Lincoln [who] was closeted and in love with Benny [who was Lincoln's best friend and in love with Nina]. It was a totally different show. The show was a huge hit [at Wesleyan University], mainly because I was one of the only Latino theater majors at Wesleyan, so to get my cast I had to go all over campus. I got people from the Latino Program House, from the gospel choir, so everyone had a friend in the show and the whole campus came. It was an original musical my sophomore year.