“In the Heights” Reaches New Heights for Upper School Students

Upper school performers transformed the Claudia Boettcher Theatre into a Washington Heights neighborhood with vibrant singing and dancing during the musical production of “In the Heights," which ran from February 24 through 26. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical follows the lives, hopes and dreams of members of a largely Dominican neighborhood on the brink of change.

Jennifer Carnevale, chair of the Department of Performing Arts, says the show is “a joyful celebration of Latine community in upper Manhattan. The students embody this joy through song, dance, and human connections.”

According to dance corps member Ellie Yang ’23, the 91-member cast and crew became family, since “many of the cast share similar backgrounds and experiences. It made the environment in the company welcoming and close-knit.”

Director Meg O’Connor said, “The experience has been one of constant learning. It’s extremely important to everyone involved that we represent the cultures and people this story is about as accurately as we can.”

That representation included the creation of the Special Force for Spanish, a group of students from Hispanic backgrounds whose mission has been to ensure cultural understanding throughout the production. They worked with the actors on word pronunciation, inflection and meaning, as well as cultural understanding. 

This is the first production for Juan Torres Rodriguez ’25, who described the experience as “exuberant, joyful and demanding.” Torres Rodriguez played the character Jose and was also a member of the Special Force. “These students [in the Special Force group], like me, have been near not only the Spanish language but our respective Hispanic cultures since birth,” he said. He emphasized that, by providing guidance and feedback to other students who do not have familiarity with Spanish, “the language being spoken in the production is authentic and accurate.”

For O’Connor, a highlight of the production was watching the students work with celebrated choreographer Lillian Colón, who starred as a dancer in the 2021 film adaptation of “In the Heights.” “It’s remarkable that they have the chance to work with this woman who has had such an incredible life as a dancer, and is a terrific model for perseverance, hard work and vision,” O'Connor said.

Caleb Jakes ’22, who starred as Benny, called the show a “transformational” experience: “I have never been in a big production like this, and it made me step out of my comfort zone and try to learn new things about the different cultures represented in Washington Heights.”

Noted Mali Black ’22, who served as student choreographer and dance corps member, “It’s nice to see this diverse story being done at Masters and to be a part of it.”