A report by Lorraine Treanor for DC Theater Scene.
GALA Hispanic Theater is getting ready to open Lin-Manuel Miranda/Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Tony Award winning musical In the Heights about a Dominican family in Washington Heights. What makes this production so special is that it will be the first time U.S. audiences will have a chance to hear In the Heights in Spanish. In doing that, GALA will also premiere their newly adapted script.
How did this opportunity come about? GALA’s Producing Artistic Director Hugo Medrano tells us how his 41 year old company took a misfortune with their season lineup and turned it into one of this year’s most highly anticipated productions that is gaining attention far beyond the Washington, DC area.
Hugo Medrano: A year ago we were having trouble finding a playwright to commission for our customary musical of the season. We had the composer Mariano Vales and the director Mariano Caligaris, an Argentine team with whom we have worked before and earned several Helen Hayes nominations for previous works. We even had a very promising old work by Argentinean playwright Roberto Arlt that needed some adaptation or reworking. But we couldn’t find the precise writer to put it together.
Given the anti-immigrant political environment we are living in and the growing fears of youth and families we serve, we thought it would be the right time to stage a Spanish language version of Lin-Manuel’s Broadway hit, In the Heights, which centers on the dreams and frustrations of a Dominican family trying to create a home in the middle of a changing “American” neighborhood. This is something close to our hearts, as we witness it today here in Columbia Heights.
I immediately called Luis Salgado, a talented Puerto Rican dancer and choreographer based in New York who was the Latin Assistant Choreographer of the Tony Award production on Broadway, and asked him to choreograph and direct a Spanish version of the musical. He had choreographed GALA’s production of DC-7: La historia de Roberto Clemente, back in 2013, during which I witnessed his talent and commitment to the show. He absolutely loved the idea, to the point that he quit a Broadway show he was in to immerse himself in this project. Luis heads an organization called Revolución Latina, that focuses on empowering Latino children and youth to achieve their dreams as artists.
How did you get the rights to do this?
Well, GALA had to first get the rights from Lui-Manuel Miranda through Rodgers & Hammerstein [licensor of the show], and then from Amaury Sánchez, the Dominican artist who translated the text and lyrics of the play to the Spanish. His first Spanish version was produced in Dominican Republic (2014), Perú (2016) and Argentina (2015). Later, Luis Salgado Productions and GALA adapted his translation integrating some English or the use of Spanglish. GALA is also creating surtitles in both Spanish and English, which required retranslating some of the original English.
Did the new lyrics affect the music? Did any changes need to be made to fit the new words to the score?
Amaury is an accomplished and renowned composer and musical director in Santo Domingo. He knows better then any musician the nuances of the songs in the play: meringue, salsa, hip hop, which are basically Caribbean rhythms. Thus, the transfer of Spanish lyrics into the English score was smooth and added a rich texture to the sound of the words.
What response have you had, nationally or internationally? Have you seen the impact on advance ticket sales?
From GALA’s first announcement of the season, In the Heights captured everyone’s attention: patrons, subscribers, actors, musicians, theatre reviewers, etc. Fortunately, that excitement extended also to the Box Office. We had to adopt a system of dynamic ticket pricing to increment the price of the tickets according to demand, and it’s working pretty well. I am glad you asked me about the sales; you can advise your readers to buy the tickets soon, before they get very expensive.
Has Mr. Miranda been involved? Will he be attending?
No, he had not. But he knows about this production since he is a good friend of Luis’, and also because the Latino theatre community in New York is a small world and any news about Latino theatre runs like a Lamborghini car. He has been invited so he might appear for one of the performances, but it would be spontaneous (not announced).
The U. S. Premiere of In the Heights in Spanish runs from April 20 – May 21, 2017 at GALA Hispanic Theatre.