In the Heights

In the Heights

Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Development of In the Heights was supported by the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center
during a residency at the Music Theatre Conference of 2005.
Initially developed by Back House Productions.

Originally produced on Broadway by Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman Willis
Sander Jacobs, Goodman/Grossman, Peter Fine, Everett/Skipper

IN THE HEIGHTS is presented through special arrangement with R & H Theatricals. www.rnh.com

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Rap as Poetry?

by Dramaturg Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell

In plays, characters sometimes deliver long speeches, or “monologues,” in which they relate important information about themselves, their world, and their desires. In modern plays, these monologues are usually written in prose form to imitate the sound of natural, everyday speech. But in older plays—like those written by Shakespeare—monologues were written in verse (or poetic) form, like the lyrics of a song but without the music. And, of course, musicals are full of songs, which are basically poems set to music. Typically, the effect of the poetic form is to draw special attention to what is being said; it encourages the audience to think about perhaps ordinary events in new ways.

The central character in In the Heights, Usnavi, raps about what he sees in his neighborhood—people getting their morning papers and coffee, gossiping, and wilting in the summer heat. We’ve provided the lyrics of the opening number of In the Heights.

Usnavi:
Lights up on Washington Heights,
At the break of the day
I wake up and got this little
Punk I gotta chase away,
Pop the gate at the crack of dawn,
Sing while I wipe down the awning.
Hey ya’ll, good morning.

I am Usnavi, and you prob’ly
Never heard my name.

Reports of my fame are
Greatly exaggerated—
Exacerbated by the fact
That my syntax
Is highly complicated ‘cuz I
Emigrated from the single
Greatest little place in
The Caribbean—
Dominican Republic,
I love it.
Jesus, I’m jealous of it,
And beyond that,
Ever since my folks passed on,
I haven’t gone back—
Goddamn, I gotta get on that.
Fo!

The milk has gone bad,
Hold up just a second,
Why is everything in this
Fridge warm and tepid?
I better step it up and
Fight the heat,
‘Cuz I’m not making any
Profit if the coffee isn’t
Light and sweet!

That was Abuela,
She’s not really my “abuela,”
But she practically raised me—
This corner is her escuela!

Now, you’re probably thinkin’,
“I’m up shit’s creek,
I never been north of 96th Street!”
Well you must take the A train.
Even farther than Harlem
To Northern Manhattan and Maintain
Get off at 181st,
And take the escalator—
I hope you’re writing this down,
I’m gonna test ya later.
I’m getting tested—
Times are tough on this bodega.
Two months ago somebody
Bought Ortega’s.
Our neighbors started packin’ up,
And pickin’ up, and ever since
The rents went up
It’s gotten mad expensive,
But we live with just enough.

Community:
In the Heights
I flip the lights,
And start my day.
There are fights—

Women:
And endless debts

Men:
And bills to pay

Community:
In the Heights
I can’t survive without café.

Usnavi:
I serve café.

Community:
‘Cuz tonight seems like
A million years away!
En Washington—

Notes on Washington Heights, NY

The New York City neighborhood known as Washington Heights is in the northernmost part of Manhattan Island. It was named for Fort Washington, which was constructed at Manhattan’s highest point. Once a pastoral summer getaway for wealthy New Yorkers, Washington Heights was transformed almost overnight into an urban center when subway lines reached the area in the early twentieth century.

It was then that the neighborhood saw its first wave of immigrants: the Irish, who had begun a mass migration to the United States after the Great Famine of 1845. European Jews followed between 1933 and 1941 as they sought refuge from the Nazis. During the 1950s and 1960s, Greeks fleeing the economic devastation caused by World War II and the Greek Civil War began to arrive. And in the 1960s, there was an influx of Puerto Rican and Cuban immigrants, seeking economic opportunity and political freedom.

The migration of Dominicans to the United States began late in comparison to other Caribbean islanders, in large part due to the Dominican Republic’s political situation. Unlike Cubans, who fled to the U.S. after the rise of the communism, or Puerto Ricans, who had won U.S. citizenship in 1951, most Dominicans were not allowed to travel under the regime of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the Dominican Republic’s brutal dictator. Although travel restrictions were lifted after Trujillo’s assassination in 1961, political oppression continued for decades. Thus, in the 1970s and 1980s, Dominicans began emigrating to the United States in large numbers searching for freedom and opportunity. New York City, and particularly Washington Heights, became the most popular destination among Dominican emigrants.

Today over fifty percent of the neighborhood’s population is of Dominican birth or descent, and another twenty percent identify as Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Mexican. Many businesses are Dominican-owned and drive the local economy. Walking down the street in Washington Heights, one is as likely to hear Spanish spoken as English. And the “endless wall of music” experienced by In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda as he walked the streets of his neighborhood growing up was infused not only with Hip Hop (born in the Bronx just over the river), but also Latin music of every genre.

Synopsis

by Dramaturg Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell

As the sun rises on a July morning, Usnavi de la Vega, son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, opens his bodega (neighborhood store) and introduces us to life in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights. The barrio’s pride and joy, Nina Rosario, has returned from a difficult first year at Stanford University. Her parents, Kevin and Camila, run a car service, but they are struggling to pay all the bills. Benny, a young man from the neighborhood, runs the dispatch while the Rosarios go to the bank to try to secure a loan. Nina enters in search of her parents, and Benny entertains her while she waits.

Salon owner Daniela encourages one of her employees, Vanessa, to move out of her mother’s apartment—she drinks away all Vanessa’s hard-earned money. While getting moving supplies at the bodega, Vanessa agrees to go out on a date with Usnavi, who is so tongue-tied that his younger cousin Sonny actually makes the proposal.

When Kevin and Camila return, Nina reveals that she has been lying to them about school for months. She lost her scholarship and has not been going to school since March, in part because she needed to two work part-time jobs to pay for tuition. Kevin resolves to find a way to pay for Nina’s education.

Abuela Claudia, the “honorary grandmother”of the neighborhood, comes to Usnavi’s bodega. Claudia raised Usnavi when his parents died, and she has remained very close to Usnavi, dispensing wisdom to him and the other young people in the neighborhood from her front stoop. She has visions of her mother with whom she often speaks and prays.

Usnavi discovers that he sold a winning lottery ticket worth $96,000 to someone in the neighborhood. He, Sonny, and Benny imagine what they would do if they had won. Benny and Nina reminisce about their childhood together, and Benny tries to reassure Nina about the future.

During the celebration of Nina’s return, Kevin announces that he has sold the business to pay Nina’s tuition. Closing the car service will mean that Benny loses his job and Usnavi loses lots of customers, which may mean the end of his business, too. The future of the whole neighborhood is thrown into doubt by this news.

Usnavi, Vanessa, and Benny go to a club to forget their troubles in dance and drink. Nina tries to talk to Benny, but he blames Nina for losing his job. As everyone dances, there is a power blackout, and thugs loot the neighborhood. Amidst the chaos, Benny and Nina find one another and escape.

The first Act ends with both promise and doubt—will the neighborhood survive store closings? Will Nina and Benny’s young romance survive her father’s disapproval and the obvious differences in their heritage and education? Will Usnavi be able to keep open the bodega that has become the heart of the neighborhood, or will he decide to close it and return to the Dominican

Republic? And who, exactly, has bought that winning $96,000 lottery ticket?

GLOSSARY

Sometimes during In the Heights, the characters, all of whom speak English, revert to their native Spanish when they’re talking together. We thought you might enjoy this brief Glossary of Spanish words and expressions used in the show.

Abuela – Grandmother
Alabanza – Praise
Alza la bandera – Raise the flag
Amánecer – Sunrise
Apagón – Blackout
Ay dios mio – Oh my god!
Barrio – Neighborhood
Bendición – blessings
Bodega – Convenience store
Calor – Heat
Como estas? – How are you?
D.R. – Dominican Republic
Dime – Tell me
Mi alma – My soul
Mi tierra – My homeland
Mira – Look
No me diga! – No kidding!
No pare – Don’t stop
P.R. – Puerto Rico
Paciencia y fe – Patience and faith
Pana – Friend
Piragua – Shave ice
Por favor – Please
Que pasó? – What happened?
Que pasó? – What’s up?
Qué sé yo? – What do I know?
Respira – Breathe
Sigue sigue – Keep going
Te adoro – I adore you
Te quiero – I want you
Tu lo sabes! – You know it!
Wepa! – Yeah!; Go!