Friday, 24 May 2019 09:00

Flying High: Mason Street takes summer theater to another level with ‘In The Heights’

Written by  Marla Miller
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When Kurt Stamm first saw In The Heights on Broadway, he knew it was a show he wanted to present as part of Mason Street Warehouse’s summer lineup in Saugatuck.

Stamm, founder and artistic director of Mason Street Warehouse, likes to select shows that did well on Broadway and have originality, heart and great writing. The Tony-award winning musical from the creator of Hamilton runs June 21-July 14 at Saugatuck Center for the Arts.

“The show is so inspiring, uplifting, entertaining,” he said. “You cannot walk away from this musical without feeling all the feels; it’s so inspirational.”

Originally conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda while in college, In The Heights won 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations. Set in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, the story is about family and community and “the things we discover about ourselves when we are faced with change,” Stamm said.

Stamm, serving as the musical’s director and co-choreographer with Jay Gamboa, said In The Heights has a great score with Latin rhythms and lively dancing. Miranda’s first musical, he wrote an early draft as a sophomore in college, which led to a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The stage version took several revisions and almost a decade to debut on Broadway, but Miranda received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical for his lead role.

The action takes place on the street, where Latin culture comes to life through the corner bodega, hair salon and taxi cab company. With a score of hip-hop, rhythmic salsa, merengue and soul music, the storyline mixes in hopes and dreams, budding romance, and advice from the neighborhood’s matriarch.

“The dancing in this show is just incredible,” Stamm said, noting it’s the first time he has worked with a choreographer in his 17 years at Mason Street. “The score of the show is just beautiful; it’s really, really fantastic music.”

The cast of 19 is one of the largest ever for a Mason Street production, and Stamm held auditions in New York City, Chicago and at three Michigan universities. Many of the performers have worked on Broadway or done national tours, including other In the Heights productions.

In the show, the tight-knit neighborhood in northern Manhattan — heavily Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican — is on the brink of change. The cast of characters is too, deciding whether to stay or leave, whether to chase their dreams or cling to their roots.

On a grander scale, the message is about cultivating home, family and community, Stamm said, as well as very personal awakenings that occur in the face of change and building community.

“Your home is whatever you make your home. Sometimes you have to move or change it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful depiction of how people care for each other and nurture each other and foster a family that’s not necessarily blood relatives.”

After In The Heights, the summer season continues with the comedy Unnecessary Farce, July 26-Aug. 10, and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Aug. 16-Sept. 1.

When planning a season, Stamm tries to expose West Michigan audiences to the newest and freshest things coming out of New York, even if the title may not always be well-recognized. For instance, the musical comedy A Gentleman’s Guide received 10 Tony nominations and four awards in 2014.

“I want to bring stuff that our audience has never seen before, that’s new and fresh and something that makes you think,” Stamm said.

In The Heights
Mason Street Warehouse at Saugatuck Center for the Arts
400 Culver St., Saugatuck
June 21-July 14
Tickets: $54 Friday and Saturday; $49 weekdays and Sundays, (269) 857-2399

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