Broadway rang in the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) Friday night (Sept. 15) with help from two of the biggest Hispanic stars on and off Broadway: Lin-Manuel Miranda and John Leguizamo.
The two friends introduced a number of star Latino talent currently performing on the Great White Way on behalf of the Broadway League’s Viva Broadway initiative, which aims to connect New York City’s best theater productions with Latino audiences.
Mandy Gonzalez, currently in Hamilton and who previously starred in the award-winning role of Nina Rosario in In the Heights, sang an original song, “Fearless,” written for her by Miranda that appears on her forthcoming solo album of the same name and released by the new Arts Music imprint of Warner Music Group.
Other sets in iconic Duffy Square included the Cuban classic “Guantanamera,” performed by Cuban-Nicaraguan Emma Pfaeffle, who is currently starring in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and “Mexico Lindo y Querido,” performed by Mexican artist Rodney Ingram, currently the lead in the recent production of Phantom of the Opera.
Kicking the evening off was Miranda’s father, Luis, a longtime theater enthusiast and executive director of Viva Broadway, who recalled growing up in Puerto Rico listening to Broadway tunes and not understanding the English lyrics, but acknowledging how they “grabbed my heart and mind.”
Obie winning and Tony nominated Leguizamo, whose acclaimed Latin History for Morons, opens at Studio 54 Theater in October, explained some of the motivation behind his new work, which included his son being bullied in school and lack of accurate Latino representation in history textbooks. He provided a mini lesson to the audience and tourists in Times Square but promised the production itself would be “a lot less boring.”
(To wit: The New York Times‘ notoriously hard to please theater critic Ben Brantley, in his review of the previous Off Broadway production, stated the “poignant” performance was “harshly funny.”)
Given the current political climate and recent fears around the ending of DACA, Leguizamo, who this month penned an op-ed for Billboard about the lack of representation of Latinos in media, told Billboard he hoped that the play’s content would resonate with Latinos and beyond while especially inspiring Dreamers.
Closing the evening, Miranda welcomed the Latinos in attendance, which included singer and Orange Is the New Black actress Jackie Cruz, and “lucky tourists walking by,” before introducing Ana Villafane, the lead of the On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Esttefan, who sang the crowd-pleaser “1-2-3.”
Viva Broadway board member and producer Carmen Rita Wong, told Billboard of the night’s festivities, “It was an iconic opening for HHM — Times Square taken over by epic Latin talent reflecting the make up of the city and country around us — and the crowd watching and dancing with us!”