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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 24, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 39
Reaching new Heights with Danny Bolero
Arts & Entertainment
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Reaching new Heights with Danny Bolero

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

In the Heights
5th Avenue Theatre
September 28 -
October 17

If you see a musical that deals with cultural traditions and people migrating to a new country, you may think you're seeing some old-fashioned revival. If you add in parents wanting something more for their children and young lovers singing ballads, you may be describing any of several wonderful musicals. But if you add in modern Latino rhythms and have the music based on hip-hop ?and rap styles, you can only be describing the Broadway smash hit In the Heights. The story is your basic musical about a community that bands together to face hardships and family conflicts, and at least one set of lovers. The Seattle Gay News caught up with Danny Bolero, who plays Kevin, the father who wants more for his children.

Eric Andrews-Katz: How did you first get interested in musical theater?

Danny Borelo: I was very shy as a kid, but I remember singing for family gatherings. My uncle used to tape me on video, and it was my way of breaking through my shy shell. When I saw my brother's high school musical, Oliver, I remember the character Nancy singing "As Long as He Needs Me," full of emotion and bigger than life. I felt that was what I had to do. My first big thing was seeing West Side Story on screen and watching the dancers jump like they were flying. That was where it all started from.

Andrews-Katz: Your first Broadway role was in the 1993 revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. What are major differences in singing music by Lloyd Webber and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda?

Bolero: First of all, they are completely different, like apples and oranges. Joseph was over-the-top fun and more for families with younger kids. The target audience was different. In The Heights has a lot of warmth, heart, and heat, and I think it tells a story of a community on the brink of change. But ITH is more current, and with me being Latino, it hits closer to home.

Andrews-Katz: Is it true you crashed an audition to become part of In the Heights?

Bolero: I was doing a musical playing Cesar Chavez, and one of the guys in the ensemble said they were going to an audition, but it was only for people with agents. I didn't have one, but went down there and saw the dance call - one of the most amazing ones I've ever seen. I knocked on the door and explained that I didn't have an agent. They were doing "type-outs" [where they keep you based on how your looks can fit the characters], and so they gave me the music to come back. I eventually got a call for the role of Kevin, and was offered the role.

Andrews-Katz: In what ways do you personally identify with the musical?

Bolero: My dad was from Mexico, and mom's family was from Arizona before it was a state. My dad had a high school education and many ambitions, but he got married and had a family. He worked three jobs to support us (I also have two older brothers). They wanted a better life for us than what they had. Mom would go without so we could go to private schools and have our uniforms. We always had family around us, and that's what this show is about; it's about family and friends.

Andrews-Katz: Kevin sings a powerful song about family called "Inútil." What goes through your mind when you sing that song?

Bolero: I think of my dad and what he did for us. There's half my dad/half my mom when I walk on that stage. Parents do whatever they can to make life better for their kids. "Whatever it takes, whatever I have to do, I have to make my kids' lives better.' I remember my parents saying that, and that's what inspires me.

Andrews-Katz: In the Heights has been said to have its roots in shows like West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof. Can you give your opinion on this?

Bolero: I'd like to think it's more like Fiddler. (I love West Side Story, but it's a very different view of Latinos). Fiddler is more about community and family, immigrants trying to make a better life. That's why ITH appeals to people; everybody has that, the family member who keeps the memories alive and documents what happens in that community. It introduces you to different kinds of families and weaves magic through the entire show. Plus the main character is more like Tevye, half narrator and half main character.

Andrews-Katz: How do you put people at ease that may be hesitant seeing the show because of its reputation of being a hip-hop/rap musical?

Bolero: I tend to tell them that it's the music that brings you into the major part of the production. The first part is for the younger crowd - it's more hip-hop - but the second act is more traditional Broadway music and ballads. The rap is very different from anything else. Lin-Manuel Miranda (composer/lyricist and original star) is a genius when it comes to writing every line. It's not your everyday rap; it's heightened with pure emotion.

Andrews-Katz: With the recent Spanish/English-speaking mix of musicals like West Side Story and In the Heights, do you think the door is being opened for further culturally mixed musicals?

Bolero: Thank God, yes! I do think people in today's musical theater scene are more afraid of losing their investments than doing diverse work. I think this will help people branch out to different communities and give more opportunities to people of color, and that's exciting.

Andrews-Katz: When the musical played in Arizona, did it affect the political situation there at all?

Bolero: Believe it or not, we were almost sold-out every night in a 3,000-seat theater. With the song "96,000," Miranda changed the lyrics from "Politicians be hatin'/racism in the nation's gone from latent to blatant!" to "Politicians be hatin'/racism in Arizona's gone from latent to blatant!" Sometimes they heard the lyric, but usually when audiences heard "Arizona" they just cheered, drowning it out. I never heard if there was a reaction, but we've been doing it ever since. I'm hoping that this [musical] will help others understand the immigrants' stories more.

Lin-Manuel Miranda conceived of In the Heights, writing the music, lyrics and starring in the Broadway production. Quiara Alegrîa Hudes wrote the musical's book, and together their work was nominated for 13 Tony Awards in the 2008 season and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009. The musical would go on to win four Tony Awards, including Best Musical of 2008.

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