You’d think it’d be hard for Luis Salgado to find anything new in the musical “In the Heights.” After all, he was involved as one of the choreographers, creators and original cast members of the Tony-winning musical (written by a pre-“Hamilton” Lin-Manuel Miranda) when the show, about a Latino community in New York City’s Washington Heights, opened on Broadway in 2008. Now, Salgado is directing and choreographing the U.S. premiere of “In the Heights” in Spanish — which, unlike the mostly English-language Broadway show, is mainly in Spanish with English surtitles. With the new translation, Salgado found that a different language meant a different point of view.
GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW; Thu. through May 21, $60.
On the old-school inspiration for the musical
“When Lin created the show, one of his biggest references was ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ which is basically the same premise,” Salgado says. “You’re celebrating a community, you’re talking about a heritage and the ways of this community, but the universal topic affects us all. We are all affected or touched by the idea of tradition; we all have our own traditions — [‘In the Heights’] is an extension of that in many ways.”
What a New York-centered play can bring to D.C.
The area where GALA works, in Columbia Heights, is going through the same gentrification as Washington Heights,” he says. “That is reflected in the [characters of] the salon owners, who have a beautiful relationship with their community, but they have to leave to the Bronx because the cost of living is getting too high. The gentrification is happening all around.
What gets found in translation
“Benny [the only African-American character and the only one who speaks exclusively in English] through the history of the show has always had the conflict of race and language,” Salgado says. “When the show is in English, you don’t always get to delve as deep, I think, as we get to do now, in examining why [a Latino character] is so resistant to [his daughter] and Benny going out together. It’s in the script that it’s language, it’s culture and race, but we have been able to discover an angle to that conflict. By the time the father comes to him and looks at his face and says, ‘You don’t speak the language,’ the audience gets it.”
Bienvenidos a todos
“This is for everybody, if you’re Latino or not,” he says. “I have discovered so much about language in this version — the conflict, and the good and the bad that language creates. There are a lot of people who want to celebrate what divides us, what makes us different. I think instead of highlighting what divides us, ‘In the Heights’ is basically about what unites us.”