The Hamilton-Heights Connection, and the Actors Who Have Done Both

Special Features   The Hamilton-Heights Connection, and the Actors Who Have Done Both Multiple actors who star in Hamilton got their start in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, and here we take a spotlight on the crossover.
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Joan Marcus

Lin-Manuel Miranda must have been talking about his In the Heights cohorts when he wrote the Hamilton tune “You’ll Be Back.” With the Chicago production of Hamilton now in previews and a national tour and London production of the mega-hit musical in the works, we take a look at how many actors have hip-hopped their way from In the Heights to Hamilton. No pare, sigue, sigue to the revolution!

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Usnavi/Hamilton

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Lin-Manuel Miranda – Usnavi / Hamilton Joan Marcus

History has its eyes on him! It’s no secret that Hamilton is a huge cultural phenomenon, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is now a household name. Gracing the covers of magazines like Rolling Stone and GQ, even more eyes will be on him this weekend as Miranda takes on the task of hosting NBC’s Saturday Night Live. The man is non-stop. But for those of us who knew about Miranda’s work pre-Hamilton, we were first introduced to him when he charmed us as Usnavi, the character named after a U.S. Navy ship, in his electrifying Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights. Wepa!

Mandy Gonzalez: Nina/Angelica Schuyler

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Mandy Gonzalez - Nina / Angelica Schuyler Joan Marcus, @_mandygonzalez/Twitter

Mandy Gonzalez captivated audiences as neighborhood sweetheart Nina Rosario in the original company of In the Heights. Since then, Gonzalez went from singing on the fire escape to singing while flying high as Elphaba in Wicked and has found her way back to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in the role of Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. Can’t get tickets to see Mandy as Angelica? In the words of Nina, “Just Breathe.”

Karen Olivo: Vanessa/Angelica Schuyler

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Karen Olivo - Vanessa / Angelica Schuyler Joan Marcus, @karenolivo76/Instagram

Karen Olivo was last seen on Broadway in her Tony Award-winning turn as Anita in the bilingual revival of West Side Story, which included translations by Miranda. In 2013, Olivo announced that she would be taking a break from the acting world. After a few smaller theatrical projects—including opposite Miranda and Hamilton Tony winner Leslie Odom, Jr. in the Encores! production of tick, tick…BOOM!—Olivo has returned to the theatre as Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago production of Hamilton. How could she say no to this?

Christopher Jackson: Benny/George Washington

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Christopher Jackson – Benny / George Washington Joan Marcus

From Washington Heights to George Washington, we fell in love with Christopher Jackson as the soulful character Benny in the original company of In the Heights, and now he returns to the Richard Rodgers Theatre as George Washington in Hamilton. Jackson also works with Miranda in their freestyle hip-hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme. When Miranda accepted the 2008 Tony Award for Best Original Score of In the Heights, Miranda rapped, “I don’t know about God, but I believe in Chris Jackson!” Holler if ya hear me!

Javier Muñoz: Usnavi/Hamilton

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Javier Muñoz – Usnavi / Hamilton Joan Marcus, @JMunozActor/Twitter

You might say that Javier Muñoz is Miranda’s “Right Hand Man.” Before taking over the title role in Hamilton, Munoz succeeded Miranda as Usnavi in In the Heights on Broadway. As part of the creative process for Hamilton, Miranda would step out during matinee performances to watch Muñoz perform and assess whether the show needed any rewrites. Muñoz, or “Javilton” as the HamilFans call him, is the epitome of Heights lyric “No pare, sigue, sigue!” A cancer survivor, and outspoken about being HIV-positive, Muñoz is not throwing away his shot.

Joshua Henry: Ensemble, Benny Understudy/Aaron Burr (Chicago)

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Joshua Henry - Ensemble / Aaron Burr (Chicago) Joan Marcus, @joshuahenry20/Twitter

Two-time Tony nominee Joshua Henry made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of In the Heights, but it wasn’t long before he was making his mark as a leading man on Broadway. Most recently seen in the concert event of the season, singing alongside Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo in Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, we can’t wait for him to take on the role of Aaron Burr in Chicago. Dear Theodosia, I hope I win the lottery!

Seth Stewart: Graffiti Pete/Ensemble to Lafayette and Jefferson

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Seth Stewart - Graffiti Pete / Ensemble/Layfayette & Jefferson Joan Marcus, @IAMSethStewart/Twitter

From spraying cans to spitting rhymes, who could forget Seth Stewart’s incredible spray can-ography as Graffiti Pete in In the Heights? Stewart made his Broadway debut in the 2005 revival of Sweet Charity before joining the original Broadway company of In the Heights; he has been on hiatus from the Great White Way until he returned to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in the ensemble of Hamilton. Recently, Stewart took over the role of Lafayette/Jefferson.

Lexi Lawson: Vanessa (first national tour)/ Eliza Hamilton

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Lexi Lawson – Vanessa/1st National Tour / Eliza Chelsea Lauren, @LexiLawson/Twitter

Although she is making her Broadway debut as Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton, Lexi Lawson is no stranger to performing in a Miranda musical. Lawson traveled around the country playing Vanessa, Usnavi’s love interest, in the National Tour of In the Heights but has found her new home at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

Jon Rua: Swing, Graffiti Pete, Sonny, Usnavi Understudy/Ensemble, General Lee, Hamilton Understudy

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Jon Rua - Swing/Graffiti Pete/Sonny/Usnavi u/s / Ensemble/General Lee/Hamilton u/s Joan Marcus, ‏@JonRua/Twitter

What happens when Miranda and his alternate Muñoz are both out of the show? HamilJon happens! On December 20, 2015, Jon Rua became the third performer to take on the role of Alexander Hamilton on Broadway. Rua made his Broadway debut in In the Heights, where he began as a swing and ended up as the Sonny replacement and the Graffiti Pete replacement. Rua also understudied Usnavi and stepped into the leading role several times. Rua, who is also a choreographer, played his last performance in Hamilton June 29.

“The Cabinet,” aka Thomas Kail (director), Andy Blankenbuehler (choreographer), Alex Lacamoire (music director/orchestrations/co-arranger)

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Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Andy Blankenbuehler and Alex Lacamoire Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

Meet the men inside the room where it happens! Affectionately referred to by Hamilton fans as “The Cabinet,” these four men (including Miranda) are the creative team behind the Tony Award-winning musicals In the Heights and Hamilton. Here’s to hoping that Miranda, like Hamilton, keeps writing like he’s running out of time, so we can see what brilliant masterpiece The Cabinet will put together next!

Other Cast Member Mentions: Antuan Magic Raimone, Daniel J. Watts, Stephanie Klemons, Joseph Morales

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Antuan Magic Raimone, Daniel J. Watts, Stephanie Klemons and Joseph Morales

In 2007, the company of In the Heights won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance, and some of the amazing ensemble members from throughout the years are bringing Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography to life again in Hamilton.

Who we want to see go from Heights to Hamilton: Robin De Jesús, Janet Dacal, Krysta Rodriguez and Corbin Bleu

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Robin De Jesús, Janet Dacal, Krysta Rodriguez and Corbin Bleu Joseph Marzullo/WENN, Monica Simoes

Two-time Tony nominee Robin De Jesús is someone we’d love to see graduate from the bodega to the battlefield. He received his first Tony nomination in 2008 for playing Sonny in In the Heights, where he memorably rapped about social issues in “96,000,” so we think he’d make a great Lafayette/Jefferson. De Jesús has an upcoming role in the world-premiere play Homos, Or Everyone in America at the Labyrinth Theatre, but everyone wants to see him in Hamilton’s America when he’s done.

Before Angelica, Eliza and Peggy Schuyler, there was Daniela, Vanessa and Carla at the salon. We think Janet Dacal, who played the lovable Chile-Dominican-Rican salon girl Carla, would make an incredible Angelica like her former co-stars Mandy Gonzalez and Karen Olivo.

Krysta Rodriguez wowed audiences as Ilse in the revival of Spring Awakening last season, but we would be helpless if she sprang back to Broadway as Eliza in Hamilton one day. Rodriguez was part of the ensemble in the original Broadway company of In the Heights.

Currently starring in Holiday Inn on Broadway, we think the former High School Musical star and Usnavi replacement, Corbin Bleu, could be the next great founding father Alexander Hamilton. Rise up, and raise a piragua to these four!

Bring It On Honorable Mentions: Gregory Haney, Ariana DeBose, Neil Haskell, Stephanie Klemmons

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Gregory Haney, Ariana DeBose, Neil Haskell and Stephanie Klemons Joseph Marzullo/WENN, Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

They get mani-pedis, but they’re made of muscle! From Truman and Jackson High School to the Greatest City in the World, these former cheerleaders in Bring It On: The Musical traded in their cheer uniforms and pom poms for military garb and muskets in Hamilton; but they still have us flipping out over their talent. Unlike In the Heights and Hamilton, Bring It On: The Musical was not completely penned by Miranda, but we still think these talented performers are doing what they were born to do, and we’re cheering them on for their performances in Hamilton!

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