At this point in the semester, most students are buckling down and thinking of nothing more than surviving the next exam. But even with midterms in full swing, the cast and crew members of “In the Heights” are spending hours practicing in Loeb Drama Center every evening. And now, just six weeks after the start of the term, TEATRO! — Harvard’s Latinx performing arts organization — is almost ready for the premiere of the musical originally written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
This quick turnaround is no small feat. Callia H. Chuang ’23, one of three co-choreographers, described the quick turnaround as one of the fastest timelines in recent Harvard memory. Chuang felt that given the considerable amount of dance numbers, the choreographers in particular were under huge pressure. Because of this, as co-choreographer Jennifer Chu ’24 explained, the team actually started “planning and making choreo[graphy] in the summer.”
Still, the choreographers remained flexible. “After we got back on campus, I think we were all really inspired by the cast members,” Chu said, “Because we knew that things would change. And leaving more room for play actually allowed us to take more inspiration from the people we cast and bring their personalities and their energy into our movement.”
The choreographers were not the only crewmembers who felt the pressure of the quick turnaround. Many of the performers, who were not cast until this semester, have also devoted extra time to the show. “I realized a lot of it was on me to just read through the script, go through the music myself, and create my own relationship [to the character] before being told by the director,” said Diego Flores Romero ’23, who plays the lead character Usnavi.
Yet this pressure has not prevented the “In the Heights” cast and crew from enjoying the production. “[Rehearsals are] something I really look forward to every day which has made it a lot easier,” said Roseanne O. Strategos ’25, who plays questioning college student Nina. “I really think that everyone’s putting a lot of work into this show which has made it go a lot smoother.”
Isabella E. Peña ‘24, cast as Vanessa, an aspiring fashion designer and Usnavi’s love interest, agreed that the hard work of the team has made the time crunch more manageable and enjoyable. “Any given day, we’re rehearsing sometime between 5 and 11 P.M., so I’m getting to know the cast really well and getting to know the directing team and the choreographers really well which is fun,” she said.
The tight turnaround didn’t prevent Director Aviva L.F. Ramirez ’23 from pursuing her goal of increasing Latine representation within Harvard’s theater scene, either. “When I was a first-year starting out in the theater community here, there really wasn’t a lot of Latine representation in terms of people going on stage and of people running shows and I didn't see any large musicals produced by or about Hispanic people,” she said.
To Ramirez, “In the Heights” is also a chance for greater Latine visibility within musical theater as a whole. “In the Heights is the gold standard of Latine representation in musical theater. There really isn't another show that does it like ‘Heights.’ … there isn’t any part of the musical theater canon that engages with Latine representation, identities, and experiences the way that ‘Heights’ does,” she said. Because of this, Ramirez is hopeful that “people feel seen” by the show.
Ramirez has also set out to rectify what she believes are mistakes made by the movie adaptation of “In the Heights.” Like many critics of director Jon M. Chu’s version, Ramirez finds that the full range of what it can mean to be a Latine person in terms of skin tone and experience was missing from the film. She was especially concerned that the movie failed to grapple with the conflict surrounding Nina and Benny’s relationship arising from Benny’s race and the colorism in Nina’s family.
“I find it very important that there’s this story of colorism and racism even within communities of color,” Ramirez said, “yet it was totally erased in the movie. There was no mention of [Nina’s father] having any sort of prejudice against Benny.” On top of including this dynamic in TEATRO!’s production, Ramirez sought to “deepen that storyline” by genderbending Benny’s character, who will be played by Alyssa M. Gaines ’26. “Not only is it a story of tension between Nina’s Puerto Rican family and Benny as an African American, but it’s also a queer story between two young women,” she said.
The crewmembers were unmistakably excited about next week’s performance. Flores Romero was particularly eager to see his parents in the audience. “I’ve done musicals before, but I don’t think [my parents] have been able to come before due to the language barrier. I’m hoping they’ll understand ‘In the Heights’ more,” she said.