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LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

A MUSICAL PIONEER

Lin-Manuel Miranda. Photo by Jordan Strauss.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is an award-winning American composer, playwright, lyricist, actor, and singer of Puerto Rican descent. He is best known for writing the music and lyrics for In the Heights and, more recently, for writing the book, music, and lyrics for Hamilton: An American Musical, both of which were critically acclaimed Broadway hits in which he also starred as an actor. He is celebrated for forging a path for hip-hop on Broadway and for challenging pre-conceived notions about theatrical story-telling by consciously casting Hamilton, a musical about the founding fathers of America, with a diverse cast that showcases actors of color.

Miranda found his place in the little-explored overlap between hip-hop and musical theatre while attending Wesleyan University, where he first penned In the Heights, which was produced by his university as a faculty-directed production. He would continue to develop the musical after graduating with fellow alums Thomas Kail and Quiara Alegría Hudes. In the Heights opened Off-Broadway in 2007 and received its Broadway debut in 2008 with Miranda in the lead role until 2010.

Compiled from SRT’s In the Heights Education Play Guide.

A LOOK INSIDE THE HEIGHTS

LOCATION

The second most populated neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan, Washington Heights sits at the northern tip of the island, right above Harlem at W. 155th St., just a 30-minute train ride away from Midtown.

HISTORY

During the Revolutionary War, it was in the Heights that George Washington and his men constructed Fort Washington to defend against British forces, primarily due to the area’s conveniently hilly topography. After America won its independence, wealthy New Yorkers fanned up to the Heights and began building their grand and elite estates away from the muck of downtown Manhattan.

MELTING POT

In the 1900s, as overcrowding became an increasingly dire problem in Manhattan, immigrant populations started moving into the Heights and the grand mansions were swiftly replaced with rows of tenement buildings and storefronts. Irish, Greeks, Germans, Hungarians, Poles, and more recently Dominicans and Puerto Ricans all help to shape Washington Heights’ rich culture and diversity.

USNAVI’S HEIGHTS

As the decades passed, Washington Heights did not receive the support and structure that wealthier, white neighborhoods did from city government and by the 1980s, the neighborhood saw a rise in serious crime and a crippling drug epidemic. Then U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato even ventured into the Heights in disguise to demonstrate the ease of buying crack and cocaine. The years of crisis had taken their toll with dilapidated housing, ill-maintained public schools, and parks too dangerous for anyone to step foot in. In the mid-90s, the area started to turn around with the help of activists, business leaders, religious and cultural groups, and elected officials.

CULTURE TODAY

Today, the Heights is one of the city’s safest neighborhoods. The large majority of Heights residents are Hispanic, and thus, the neighborhood is often referred to as “Quiskeya Heights” referring to a region in the Dominican Republic. While traces remain of Jewish, Irish, and German cultures, the area is primarily and wonderfully rich in Latin food, religion, dance, music, and languages.

BODEGAS

Bodegas (“grocery stores” in Spanish) are an NYC institution! Similar to a 7-Eleven, bodegas are smaller mini-marts that sell anything and everything from bagels to toilet paper to wine. Bodega cats are also a common sight!

SOURCES

imperialmovers.com/washington-heights
news.rutgers.edu/feature/washington-heights-through-decades/20150226
macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/berger2011/washington-heights/cultural-aspects-of-washington-heights