SALT LAKE CITY — The megahit Broadway musical “Hamilton” continues to take the country by storm, with tickets still in high demand in every city it has passed through — including the production’s upcoming visit to Salt Lake City — but Pioneer Theatre Company wants to remind people that “Hamilton” isn’t composer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first rodeo.
The Salt Lake theater group is preparing to launch a two-day, three-performance concert version of Miranda’s “In the Heights” — the 2008 musical that garnered the performer/composer his first Tony Award. The production is a return to the story for PTC, as the company previously staged a full version of the show in 2012.
“When we did the full production six years ago, it was very successful, but Lin-Manuel was not who he is now,” said Karen Azenberg, PTC’s artistic director and director of the upcoming “In the Heights.” “I think (the concert version is) a great opportunity to take his work that people may or may not have been familiar with now that he is sort of astronomic in his recognition level and say, ‘Hey, here’s something really cool that he did before.’”
The concert version of “In the Heights,” which will be performed March 16-17, is a continuation of PTC’s concert series, which Azenberg created as a way to expose audiences to a variety of works. She said some pieces may have complications — such as a problematic book or material that isn’t as appealing to a wide audience — but they have other redeeming qualities she thinks are valuable to audiences. So instead of staging a full production, the concert series allows for a full show to be performed with a complete cast but minimal set and scripts in hand.
Azenberg said she chose to stage a concert version of “In the Heights” as opposed to a full version simply because of timing.
“I think if we hadn’t already done a full production, I would have done a full production, but I think it was too soon to do the show again for a full run,” she said. “To do it in concert seemed like a fun, great opportunity to say, ‘Look at this other thing he did, because it’s pretty special too.’”
Actor Tomas Joaquin Matos, who plays Sonny in the upcoming production, said putting on a concert version infuses the rehearsal process with a sense of urgency.
“It’s a two-week rehearsal and show process, so it’s very fast and we move really quickly and fast-paced,” he said. “You kind of always have to be on top of your stuff and roll with what’s going on.”
“In the Heights” tells the story of a group of people living in the Washington Heights neighborhood on the northern tip of Manhattan, with a man named Usnavi at the center. Usnavi owns a bodega, “looks after the aging Cuban lady next door, pines for the gorgeous girl working in the neighboring beauty salon and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic,” according to broadway.com. Matos said at its heart, “In the Heights” is about finding or creating a sense of home.
“It’s quite beautiful because there are so many different characters in ‘In the Heights’ and where their lives take them and … they all still have the idea of home,” he said.
“The cool thing about ‘In the Heights’ to me is it shows so specifically (Miranda’s) love for the people and the culture that he has come from — the Latin American, Caribbean, Spanish-speaking cultures that settled in New York City,” Azenberg said. “It’s really a love story to those communities in the way that ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is a sort of love story to the Jewish culture, and you don’t have to be of the culture to appreciate it.”
Additionally, “In the Heights” shows some of Miranda’s signature traits, including a hip-hop style, now “developed at another level in ‘Hamilton,’” Azenberg said.
“‘In the Heights’ was kind of like his stepping stone to showing the world who he was,” Matos said. “It isn’t as famous as ‘Hamilton’ … but I still think that it showed the heart of Lin.”
If you go …
What: Pioneer Theatre Company's "In the Heights" concert version
When: March 16, 7:30 p.m., and March 17, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East
How much: $25-$45