"In the Heights," Scripted by Quiara Alegría Hudes, Premieres on Broadway

March 9, 2008

Playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, 2021. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In 2004, Quiara Alegría Hudes began work with Lin-Manuel Miranda on the musical In the Heights, a story, as she puts it, of “Latino resilience and joy and values and cariño.”

Hudes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, penned the script of In the Heights, a captivating story about dreams, community, and identity, set in a Latino neighborhood in Washington Heights. The musical premiered on Broadway on March 9, 2008, at the Richard Rogers Theatre.

“In the Heights,” said Hudes, “was like writing my life story in a fictional way.” She drew upon her personal identity to imbue her characters with an authenticity that resonates with audiences and speaks to the experiences of many Latino Americans. In her memoir called My Broken Language, Hudes writes about her mixed heritage as the daughter of a Puerto Rican non-Jewish mother and an Ashkenazi Jewish father. She shares that she felt split between two cultures; an experience displayed in her incongruous Latino-Jewish name which has “A silent u in Quiara and a spherical u in Hudes…like in ‘beautiful’ or ‘cute’.” It is, she reflects, “A name that broke its own rules.”

She applied her own experiences of liminality to the storylines of her characters. Usnavi, a bodega owner, dreams of moving to the Dominican Republic, the country from which his parents immigrated to the U.S. Usnavi’s name, inspired by the U.S. Navy ship his parents saw upon arriving in America, is an expression of his own liminality. Like Hudes, he lives between the two worlds of American society and the Latino community.

The story of Nina, a bright young woman and Stanford student who is admired by her community as “the one who made it out,” parallels Hudes’ own experience. “You know,” said Hudes in a PBS News interview, “it blew my mind when I had already gotten my Yale acceptance letter, to discover that loved ones in my family, elders, were illiterate.” Through Nina, Hudes expresses her own experience of seeking academic success without sacrificing her loved ones, heritage, and identity.

The year of its premiere, In the Heights won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and in 2009, Hudes was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2021, Hudes worked with Lin Manuel-Miranda to adapt the musical for film. Through In the Heights, Hudes harnesses her own “broken language” to tell a moving story that resonates with many who feel caught between two worlds.

 

Sources

Borchers, Callum. “Playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes Explores How her Puerto Rican Roots Shaped Her Artistic Voice,” Wbur.org, April 2, 2021. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2021/04/02/my-broken-language-hudes.

“In the Heights,” Stageagent.com. https://stageagent.com/shows/musical/1288/in-the-heights.

Jones, Marcus. “In the Heights writer Quiara Alegría Hudes ‘didn’t want it to come off like a corny musical,’” Entertainment Weekly, June 15, 2021. https://ew.com/movies/in-the-heights-writer-quiara-alegria-hudes/.

Woodruff, Judy. “Quiara Alegria Hudes: Playwright, Lyricist & Essayist, Pbs.org. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/brief/381899/quiara-alegria-hudes.

Writers & Company. “Pulitzer Prize-winner Quiara Alegría Hudes on her journey to writing the hit musical In the Heights,” Cbc.ca, January 21, 2022. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/writersandcompany/pulitzer-prize-winner-quiara….

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Jewish Women's Archive. ""In the Heights," Scripted by Quiara Alegría Hudes, Premieres on Broadway." (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/mar/09/2008/heights-scripted-quiara-alegria-hudes-premieres-broadway>.