Cast of NU ‘In the Heights’ celebrate their identities in an immersive musical


Lexi Goldstein/The Daily Northwestern

“In the Heights” director Alondra Rios described the show as a “celebration.”

Scott Hwang, Reporter

The original “In the Heights” musical on Broadway hardly lacked pizzazz, if four Tonys and 13 nominations count for anything. But Northwestern’s upcoming production of the show seeks to add even more flair.

NU Arts Alliance’s production of the musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes will run Dec. 1 to 3 in McCormick Auditorium.

“In the Heights” tells the story of a Latine and immigrant community in Washington Heights, New York City over the course of three days. 

Two people smile at each other while dancing.
Audiences can experience “In the Heights” through sight, sound and smell in the McCormick Auditorium. (Lexi Goldstein/The Daily Northwestern)

Communication junior and director Alondra Rios said she plans to immerse the audience in the story’s universe.

“Usually when you go into a theater, you sit and you wait for the show to start,” Rios said. “We want the audience to be halfway there before the show even starts.”

She also spoke about immersing the audience in the show with a variety of sensory elements, from the smells of home cooking to the touch of different fabrics. She said the production uses the whole theater as a stage.

Communication senior Gabriela Furtado Coutinho said these sensory details remind her character, Abuela Claudia, of her native Cuba. 

“This might be the first time I as a performer get to tell an immigrant story on stage, and I am an immigrant,” Furtado Coutinho said. “This is sacred work that connects us to our roots and stories, the core of who we are.”

Like Furtado Coutinho, Bienen senior David Garcia Suarez said playing the character Usnavi resonates with his personal experiences.

Garcia Suarez’s parents are immigrants, and for much of the show, Usnavi dreams about returning to his home in the Dominican Republic. 

“I definitely find that there’s a lot of overlap between his circumstances and mine, us both having a very strong connection to home,” Garcia Suarez said. “I haven’t been back to Mexico since I was two years old, and that’s always something I’ve wanted to do.”

Communication sophomore Arwen-Vira Marsh said playing Nina Rosario, a first-generation college student, helped her process being the first person on her mom’s side to go to college.

Six people dance in a clump formation with their arms up
Arts Alliance’s “In the Heights” lets its cast honor their own identities onstage. (Lexi Goldstein/The Daily Northwestern)

As a Black actor, Marsh also said their identity brings a slightly different story to the role, which is not often played by a Black actor.

“There’s a moment between me and my love interest Benny at the end of Act One that is really, really beautiful,” Marsh said. “Benny is played by a Black man … We rarely get to see a Black love story on stage.”

Furtado Coutinho and Rios said the song “Carnaval del Barrio” is one of their favorite moments. During the song, Washington Heights community members respond to sudden local changes by raising the flags of their home countries.

Rios said this scene provides a chance to honor the different immigrant stories of the cast. Members fly flags from their own places of origin, such as Venezuela and Hong Kong, in addition to those of their characters. 

Rios hopes that audiences will connect — and join in — with the show.

“Be prepared to laugh, to cry and to dance,” she said.

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