In the Heights
Book by Quiara Allegria Hudes; Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Presented by Glenfield Middle School
April 5 and 6, 7 p.m.
By GWEN OREL
Some people call it “Juilliard Junior High.”
Thomas Lupfer, who directs the musical “In the Heights,” describes Glenfield Middle School as “kind of like the ‘Fame’ school.”
There is a large cast: 60 students will appear in “In the Heights” on April 4 and 5.
That’s about half of the students who auditioned, said Lupfer, at a run-through of the show last week.
There is also a 15-strong stage crew.
Lupfer, who has taught at Glenfield for 12 years, said such a large turnout is typical for the arts magnet school.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, which won four Tony Awards in 2008, is set in Washington Heights over the course of three days, as characters in the Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican communities struggle to keep their traditions and pursue their dreams. It’s the most contemporary show Lupfer has directed at Glenfield.
FEELING AT HOME
While “In the Heights” is in a different style than last year’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” the musicals share similar themes: they are about a community figuring out how to survive, Lupfer said.
Three of the show’s leads agree.
Wesley Mathis, 13, who plays Usnavi de la Vega, the narrator and role played by Miranda on Broadway, said that the show is “all about finding your place in this world. My character Usnavi doesn’t know what he wants in life. He doesn’t know where he wants to go. This play is about finding home and where you belong.”
That’s a feeling that Asher Talty, 13, understands. He plays Benny, a non-Spanish speaking character, who’s fallen hard for college student (and secret drop-out) Nina, played by 13-year-old Amalia Breward.
“I didn’t grow up in Montclair,” Talty said. “I definitely understand how Usnavi and many of the characters feel because I’ve moved a couple of times. And it’s hard filling in every different time. It’s almost like I’m becoming a different person fitting in with different crowds every different time.”
Mathis lived in North Carolina for seven years, and moved to Montclair about four years
ago. He missed North Carolina at first, but now, he said, he realizes “this is where I’m supposed to be. This is where I make my dreams.”
In contrast, Brevard has always lived in Montclair, and her mother went to college here too. But she appreciates the way the play shows that “home isn’t necessarily always your house.” The people around you can be home, too, she said.
Breward said that she loves the style of the contemporary musical, but she wasn’t used to the style, so that was a challenge. But that style helped her love “Breathe,” her solo: “I think it’s just it’s one of the easiest songs I’ve ever had to sing, to connect to it with emotion. It just came naturally.”
CREDIT FOR ACTING
Lupfer chose the show in part because of his young students.
“We had the voices to fit a more modern sound,” he said. “I love the music in this show. I think the music is uplifting, exciting, energetic and fun.
“Being able to work on a score like this and infuse some hip-hop dance and get some more modern dance involved has been a really nice change of pace.”
The cast have been meeting every day for 45 minutes, in school.
“It’s a class,” he explained. “Even at Montclair High, [the cast] meet after school from 3 to 6. We meet every day, all school year long.”
Glenfield Middle School offers electives in dance (which counts for physical education credit), vocal and instrumental music, visual arts, and theater, he said. All the kids share a passion for performance.
Many of his Middle School students have gone on to be in Montclair’s School of Visual and Performing Arts: he said that when he goes to an SVPA production, he counts. Out of a cast of perhaps 40, usually only five or six are not his former students.
And he likes the way performances brings the students together.
“When you’re a talented kid, it doesn’t matter if you’re having voice lessons every day when you go home or you’re taking seven dance classes outside of school. Some of them do that. Some of them aren’t. And that’s OK too because they can get the same opportunities,” he said.
For Mathis, “The feeling that you have onstage is beautiful. You can be anybody on stage.”
And, Talty said, “I really find a home in the theater, and the stories you can tell.”