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Lin-Manuel Miranda of ‘In the Heights’ on No Longer Being in the Heights

Miranda and cast onstage.Photo: Joan Marcus

It's been a heady year for 28-year-old Lin-Manuel Miranda. Around this time in 2007, In the Heights — the hip-hop- and salsa-infused musical about life in his hometown hood, Washington Heights, that he conceived while a student at Wesleyan — opened on a $2.5 million budget at 37 Arts, with him in the lead. It elicited loving reviews and loud ovations from both Latino teens and white old-timers alike. Now the show’s taking Broadway, opening tonight at the Richard Rodgers with a $10 million budget, a retooled book and score, and high hopes that it can re-create the crossover appeal it found last year. Vulture talked to Miranda before a recent afternoon rehearsal and found that, despite spending the past year schmoozing with Stephen Schwartz and John Kander, he sounded like the same witty, no-bullshit Nueva Yorker that captured hearts last year.

So what’s different about the show from last year’s incarnation?
The only new lead we have is Carlos Gomez [who plays Kevin, the father of Nina, who's torn between the Heights and her new life at Stanford]. We've added four more people to the mix, a bigger ensemble, and more swings. Off Broadway, if more than three people were sick, we'd have to do a cut show. Sunday night we'll put in Javi [Munoz], one of my understudies, so I can watch the show and take some notes. I'll have to wear a disguise so the audience doesn't kill me for not being in it. Last year, I wasn't in it the night Raúl Esparza came.

Was he pissed?
No, we talked, and he loved the show. But it is my face on the poster. I got hit with a purse once by a woman who was angry I wasn't in it the night she came.

And now your budget is four times the size it was last time around. How has that changed things?
Off Broadway, I used my own belt for my own pants, and now I have a belt for every pair of pants [in the show], none of which are mine.

You've talked about some people criticizing the show for not showing enough gangs and drugs.
Yeah, one guy said to me, "I lived there and there was a lot of domestic violence." And I was like, "Maybe in your house." It was jarring for people who haven't spent time in Washington Heights to not see scenes like the one in Shaft — where the drug deal takes place in the Heights. But if I'd tried to put that in, I wouldn't have been honest with my experience there. That stuff existed, but it wasn't central to my upbringing.

And are you rolling around any new musical ideas?
I have an idea for a big musical that I won't be able to write for about another ten years because I'm not old enough.

Is it about being brokenhearted or something?
I could write about that tomorrow! No, it would take place in and around the Civil War. But I don't want to jump into another original musical right away, since I'm going to be in this show for a little while. I've been talking to Stephen Schwartz about working on a little thing.

Wow, you're really working with musical-theater royalty. Who else have you met?
John Kander's become a really good friend in this process and has been a big champion of the show. I got to meet Arthur Laurents a couple of months ago. And Stephen Flaherty, or Ahrens and Flaherty, who wrote Ragtime. And Jeanine Tesori [who composed Thoroughly Modern Millie]. I'm meeting all my heroes.

Do you still live in the Heights?
I was living in Inwood, and the rent practically doubled, so I said, "For this, I'll live in midtown," so now I live closer to the theater district. But my dream is to buy a place up in the Heights — I really miss my neighborhood, because my parents and my girlfriend still live there, so I'm uptown as much as possible. Down here I don't have a place where they’ll press my ham and cheese in a toaster.
–Tim Murphy