As you take your seats, the lights in the theater begin to flicker and dim. The show is about to start. A hush falls over the crowd. One single spotlight falls upon the actor on stage and the music begins to play. Your heart starts to race as the music picks up and the characters commence their singing. For the next few hours, you cannot peel your eyes off of the performance. When the music finally stops, the audience soars from their seats and the room erupts with cheers. After everybody has left the building, Broadway bids New York goodnight and closes its doors.
Unfortunately, as of March 2020, the doors have remained locked. For the first time, Broadway went dark due to public health concerns. But finally, after over a year and a half of silence, Broadway is returning this September. Once again, native New Yorkers and travelers around the world can safely revisit theaters and watch their favorite musicals. To commemorate the good news, Jimmy Fallon invited his good friend Lin-Manuel Miranda to be a guest on the “Tonight Show.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda is an American Puerto Rican actor, producer and playwright. His Broadway productions have earned multiple Tony and Grammy awards, as well as an Emmy. He is well-known for his blockbuster musical “Hamilton” that tours worldwide and is available for streaming on Disney+. Miranda is also famous for his work writing songs for “Moana” and acting in “Mary Poppins Returns.”
On June 8, Miranda and Fallon celebrated, with a choreographed performance, the things that they missed while Broadway’s doors were closed. They admitted to missing things as big as the feeling of performing on stage and as small as the people who always seem to show up late. The songs included back-to-back references to a wide spectrum of popular musicals such as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked.”
“But most of all,” Miranda crooned, “I miss the crowds [with] theaters packed, they’re cheering so loud.” The pandemic caused a lot of hardship for everybody, especially for those who work as first responders and others in the medical field. Still, it was important to acknowledge the hurt that the performers on Broadway felt and the possibility that the doors may have stayed closed forever due to a lack of sufficient funding. The fear still lingers in the minds of these performers that, even though Broadway is about to open this fall, COVID-19 restrictions and a lack of interest may drastically decrease audience sizes.
These entertainers, however, got a glimpse of what it was like to perform for ecstatic patrons again, live and in-person, on Fallon’s show. In an emotional experience, Broadway stars including Jimmy Spitz, Olga Merediz, Kristen Chenoweth, Phylicia Rashad, Laura Benanti and Christopher Jackson joined Miranda and Fallon on the stage for a parody performance of “You’ll Be Back” from “Hamilton.”
After a standing ovation and prolonged applause, Miranda and Fallon sat down for an interview. Miranda exclaimed, “You don’t know what a gift you are to all of these people who sang for you just now,” with a beaming smile on his face. He provided the analogy that many Broadway actors are much like Tinker Bell because they need applause to live.
The duo then discussed the new film adaptation of Miranda’s Broadway show “In the Heights.” The musical features a community of Latinx people in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in upper Manhattan whose residents have big dreams for themselves and their community. In the original Broadway cast, Lin-Manuel Miranda starred as the main character, Usnavi, a bodega owner who dreamt of moving to the Dominican Republic and starting a new business. For the movie adaptation, the role was given to Anthony Ramos, who starred as John Laurens and Phillip Hamilton in the musical “Hamilton.” Instead, Miranda features in the film as a secondary character, “Piragua Guy.”
The Broadway show has been nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won four, including best musical in 2008. The highly anticipated film was originally supposed to premiere last June but was postponed due to the pandemic. It surely proved to be worth the wait, earning over $11.5 million in its opening weekend.
At a young age, Miranda discovered that he was born to perform. Multiple videos have resurfaced on the internet of Miranda lip-syncing and dancing to a variety of songs. He got the opportunity to direct his high school’s rendition of the musical “West Side Story” as a senior but feared that it would be his last chance to continue his pursuits. After his high school graduation, he began writing “In the Heights” at age 19. There was, and still remains, a lack of Latinx voices in theater arts. When Fallon questioned why Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote “In the Heights,” Miranda explains that he, “wrote what was missing. I wanted to write musicals starring Latinos telling different stories.”
Despite the ambush of critical praise, some critics are upset about the film’s lack of Black Latinx involvement and its perceived colorism — the prejudice against darker-skinned Black individuals and the favor for those with lighter skin. This critique is no small complaint and it is especially poignant during a time when the Black Lives Matter movement is challenging racism in America. In response, Miranda has issued an apology on his Twitter page, saying that he “can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling unseen” and owns up to the fact that he and the rest of the casting crew fell short of representing the full Latinx community.
The film premiered on Thursday, June 10, at 175th Street in Washington Heights. On “The Tonight Show,” Miranda reveled in how meaningful it felt to tell his story on the same street the musical tells its story. It is currently available for audiences to watch on HBO Max and in select theaters.
Although the return of Broadway is exciting, Miranda warns that the future of Broadway depends on taking COVID-19 precautions seriously and aiding the push for guests to get vaccines. In order for musicals to keep running through Broadway, guests and performers alike need to feel physically safe and healthy.
Still, Lin-Manuel Miranda kept a positive attitude on the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” He promises to attend every upcoming Broadway show that he can, starting in September, even offering to pay full price for admission to see old classics and the newer shows that didn’t get the chance to premiere.