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Lin-Manuel Miranda Fever

By Suzy Evans in Arts & Entertainment on May 27, 2009 4:40PM

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Usnavi in In the Heights. (Photo via
We’ve done and heard lots of complaining about the lack of new musical theater in Chicago and even on Broadway. But there are some glimmers of hope, and while they may not be in Chicago yet, one of them is coming to a television near you.

In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams, a documentary about the 2008 Tony award-winning musical, airs tonight at 8 pm on WTTW 11. It might be a little early for a documentary about a show that only won the Tony last year - Every Little Step, the A Chorus Line documentary, just hit theaters in Chicago, almost three years after the revival and over 30 years after the show premiered on Broadway. However, we know Chicago thespians are looking for every scrap of hope that new and original musical theater is still out there. So while there is still no schedule for the national tour, launching in Florida in October, to come to the windy city, we can live vicariously through this documentary. PBS definitely won our hearts with B'way: The American Musical, the six-hour documentary event hosted by Julie Andrews, and if tonight’s program is anything similar, we’re in for something good.

In the Heights is one of the most exciting new (yes, NEW) musicals, and the Tony-award winning creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also starred as the lead Usnavi through the show’s first year on Broadway, started writing the show during his sophomore year in college. The show premiered on Off Broadway in February 2007 and opened on Broadway a year later. In addition to the Tony, the show won the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album and was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer for Drama. Set over three days in Washington Heights, the Manhattan neighborhood that’s even above Harlem, the musical explores the lives of a tight-knit Hispanic community with one of the most incredible scores to hit Broadway.

And if after watching the documentary, you just can’t wait for the show to get to Chicago, the next best, or even better, thing is coming to Evanston this June. Miranda will be one of the composers teaching master’s classes and performing as a part of The Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project at Northwestern University June 21-27. Unfortunately, the classes are closed to students involved in the project, but Miranda, along with the other teachers, will perform in the Master Teacher Cabaret on June 24 in the Josephine Louis Theater and in the Johnny Mercer Celebration Concert on June 27 in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Single tickets go on sale this Friday for $10 and $30 respectively.