The Story of How Lin-Manuel Miranda Created ‘Breathe’ for In The Heights
This post was originally published on Playbill - Features
Written by: Seth Rudetsky
April 8 was my sister Nancy’s birthday show and we dedicated an entire Stars in the House to her. It was fabulous! I peppered it with stars she’s obsessed with, like Judy Kuhn, whom we saw back in 1987 when we snagged tickets to the Tony Awards dress rehearsal. If you don’t know, that was the year Judy starred as Cosette in Les Misérables as well as Bella in Rags. Nancy and I also recalled the creepy man who approached us as we were waiting in line to get into the theater.
(Nancy and I are in line while she holds both tickets in her hand)
MAN: Are those tickets to the Tony dress rehearsal?
MAN: (calmy) Can I see them?
Nancy opens her hand
MAN: (same line reading) Can I have them?
The answer was a resounding NO!
We also had Mandy Gonzales on the live stream, whom we both saw in In The Heights numerous times. I told a story Lin had told me years ago: He was workshopping In The Heights at the Eugene O’Neill Center and presented a bunch of songs. Andrew Lippa, one of the moderators, told Lin he loved the score but noted that everything was in 4/4. Lin told me that at first he was like “Yeah, everything’s in 4/4 because that’s what hip-hop uses!” Then later he was like, “Wah! Everything’s in 4/4!” So, Andrew’s observation is what gave Lin the impetus to write “Breathe,” Mandy’s first big song in the show, which was in 3/4 time. Here we are performing together at French Woods, pre-pandemic. If you want to see more of us in action, get tickets to our concert April 25 at TheSethConcertSeries.com.
Speaking of hilarious, we also had Colleen Ballinger AKA Miranda Sings on the show and I told her that Nancy always says “I got you good!” which is something Miranda says after she does one of her horrific prank phone calls. We watched the time she pranked Tyler Oakley, and Colleen was horrified by how badly she tried to hide her laughter which was to lift the phone in front of her face.
Marc Shaiman always comes through and writes original songs on Stars in the House and this week was no exception. He knows that Nancy always says to me, “Why can’t you be Marc Shaiman?” It’s so hilarious to me because it’s not “Why can’t you be more like Marc Shaiman, it’s literally ‘Why can’t you be Marc Shaiman?” Anyhoo, Marc wrote a great song all about that…with a fabulous surprise moment executed by his husband, Lou Mirabel.
Jack Plotnick also made an appearance as his alter ego, Evie Harris. Always hilarious! If you’ve never seen Evie, here she is in one of my favorite scenes from Girls Will Be Girls, which also starred Miss Coco and Varla Jean Merman. Set up: Evie’s sitting at home, alone, watching her ‘70s disaster film called Asteroid.
And Norm Lewis stopped by and showed the special video he made just for Nancy which his version of the song “Home,” which Nancy loves so much. I’m especially obsessed with the vibrato he uses on closed consonants…á la Barbra Streisand and Gavin Creel. Watch!
Also, on Stars in the House we had a reunion of the entire cast of the film The Kids Are All Right, including the producer and director/co-writer. And speaking of the producer, Gary Gilbert, he not only matched all donations to The Actors Fund—he tripled them! We raised a ton of money from that live stream. And we learned so many fun things about the actors, like how Annette Benning loves having something to do while she’s acting. It’s hard for her to just stand and do a scene but she loves it if she can be folding laundry or filing papers or any type of “business.” That’s why she loved doing this awkward scene when her family meets the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) while they have dinner: she was able to drink, eat, serve food while also serving judgment.
Josh Hutcherson (who later became a huge star because The Hunger Games) told us how devastated he was at the first screening. Why? Because the audience laughed. He thought the film was a drama and was mortified there was any laughing. His mother tried to comfort him afterwards but he told her how horrible it was, until he finally found out there are supposed to be laughs throughout the whole film. Speaking of laughs, this is a scene that’s basically a farce: Josh’s character has reached out to his Mark Ruffalo, his biological dad, but his parents, Julianne Moore and Annette Benning, think he’s hooked up with a boyfriend.
Mark Ruffalo talked about the decision he made around ten years ago to give up acting and just direct. Before he filmed The Kids Are Alright, he decided it would be his last as an actor. He then realized that he was following what other people said his career should be and that the amazing feeling he got while acting in the film was something he wanted to keep doing. So, The Kids Are All Right is the film that made his performance in The Avengers possible.
I love surprising our guests with footage from their past, so I showed everyone Mark’s 1980s Clearasil commercial. Afterwards, he told us that it was his first big job and he made great money which led to him constantly taking his friends out to dinner. Unfortunately, he didn’t work out a savings plan. He recalled that, a few months later, he went to the ATM and all his money was gone. On a side note, I asked him if he based his 1980s look on the amazing Melissa Manchester. He neither confirmed nor denied. (Insert photo)
By the way, this week is a great week to donate to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS because everything is being doubled! It’s the time of year when Broadway shows normally raise money by holding red buckets in the audience but, of course, that’s not happening. So, BCEFA is asking people to donated directly on their website and your donation will be matched (up to $1,000,000!)! I had executive director Tom Viola on the show and we were talking about all the ways Broadway shows would raise money during the yearly fundraising period. When I was doing Disaster! in 2016, we would auction off live performances of songs on stage after the show and we raised a lot of money that way! Here’s Adam Pascal, who played Chad in Disaster!, joined by audience member—and Rent co-star—Daphne Rubin-Vega recreating “Light My Candle.” The wonderful part is, Disaster! was at the Nederlander Theater, so they were singing it again on the same stage they performed the song back in 1996!
On Stars in the House, I played highlights of Easter Bonnet competitions throughout the years and here is one of my absolute favorites: the In The Heights version of “Tradition” from Fiddler. So fantastic! Watch this then peace out.
Photos: Check Out the Bonnets of the 2019 Easter Bonnet Competition