Interview: The Fulton Celebrates IN THE HEIGHTS

By: Mar. 29, 2017
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IN THE HEIGHTS is currently playing at THE FULTON THEATRE until April 4, 2017. Under the direction of Bob Cline, the musical stars Diego Klock-Pérez (Usnavi), Mili Diaz (Nina), Kalyn West (Vanessa), Daniel Yearwood Benny), and Debra Cardona (Abuela Claudia). The music and lyrics of IN THE HEIGHTS are by a little-known composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda (whom I refer to as "Shakespeare Nouveau"), and the book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. FULTON'S production of IN THE HEIGHTS proves to be a celebration of glorious and often ambiguous, life-altering decisions. I had the pleasure to speak with some of the performers who proved to be as amiable off the stage as on.

Christy Brooks: What surprised you most about working on IN THE HEIGHTS?

Debra Cardona: I didn't realize how large of a Latino community there was here in Lancaster. Really big; so it made me extra-excited to do it here because we are bringing in a community that gets to see itself up on stage. And, we are also introducing this community to everybody else.

Mili Diaz: I didn't know that either. It was nice that one night we had a Salsa party after the show the first Friday night.

Kalyn West: My mom was here for that Salsa party and she was asking to please stay for a little more dancing. She just wanted to dance more. It was held in the lobby and opened to those in attendance at the show. We even had people from outside come in and join us.

Christy Brooks: When did you realize you wanted to make acting a career?

Debra Cardona: I was 13 years old and went to see a production of GODSPELL and I bought the album and I played it every day and I acted out all the parts. That was it for me. My parents were very supportive and my dad found a local acting school that I joined and I continued throughout my high school years. I then auditioned for NYU and got into the drama program there.

Kalyn West: I started off as a dancer. I moved a lot so I never had anything consistent but when I got into junior high school my friend dragged me into a musical audition and I was randomly assigned a solo in THE MUSIC MAN. That was my first musical ever and I wanted to be Zaneeta so badly. I actually got to play her this summer.

Christy Brooks: Did you know you could sing?

Kayln West: No, I had never done anything like this before. My choir teacher asked who wants a solo and my friend, Katie Born, told her I could sing and she's good; she volunteered me. Then I remembered in high school I got my first lead role as Belle in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I was always very shy and self-conscious kid. I was the book-worm that would sit on the stairs at lunch and not talk to anybody. When I did the show, though, it was the first time that I felt comfortable being looked at and felt really confident. I thought I was finally starting to step into my own skin. And that was it for me because it was a feeling I had never touched before.

Daniel Yearwood: I was in high school and I saw my best friend play Sky Masterson in GUYS AND DOLLS. I then saw WEST SIDE STORY at my high school and thought that I really wanted to do theatre. The next year I auditioned for THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE and I got a chance to play Trevor Graydon which was really fun. The director of that production worked with the Head of the BFA /MFA program at Rutgers University and their summer conservatory and I went to a four week program there and that is when I realized that this was not just a hobby or for fun; this was who I wanted to be and who I'm meant to be in order to function as a human being.

Diego Klock-Pérez: I saw Jim Carey in some movies like, LIAR LIAR and ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and I thought that as a pretty cool job. My mom brought me to a theatre audition when I was in third grade. The acting bug bite me at a very young age and you just don't stop if it's your thing.

Mili Diaz: I moved here from Peru when I was nine so I was in third grade. I didn't know any English so I went to ESL classes for a whole year learned to speak fluently. In fourth grade I auditioned for GUYS AND DOLLS and that was my first musical ever. I loved it and it was so much fun. I was a dancer in it. In fifth grade I got into a high school production of JOSEPH AND THE TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT as part of the children's choir and I remember sitting at rehearsals and watching the high school actors and I thought then that this is what I wanted to do.

Christy Brooks: If not as an actor, where would you see yourself working professionally?

Kayln West: I have a second degree in Anthropology. I believe Acting and Anthropology go hand-in-hand with the studies of people and cultures. I would like to pursue a graduate degree in Anthropology and work-in theatre somehow, whether that's in writing or in socially aware community programs.

Debra Cardona: I do have an alternative career as a dramaturge. I am good a production dramaturge. Dramaturge gives me the job of looking at a piece of theatre as a whole rather than just my part in it. I was the dramaturge for the Classical Theatre of Harlem for ten years.

Daniel Yearwood: I would have done Childhood Psychology.

Diego Klock-Pérez: Being a rock star would be pretty cool, or being in an 80's rock band singing and playing a guitar. That would be fantastic. I also would like to be a private plane pilot.

Mili Diaz: I have my minor in Psychology and would like to be a clinical psychologist maybe using pet therapy.

Christy Brooks: What part of your character in IN THE HEIGHTS is organic to yourself?

Mili Diaz: Well, I used to be very much like Nina especially right out of high school and when I first saw the show, I identified with her right away. That pressure of doing everything for my parents because they came to this country for me. I identify with that a lot. So every day I do the show, it's for them. I always have them in the back of my mind; it's a gift. And I always carry that with me.

Diego Klock-Pérez: I do love surrounding myself with a bunch of different people and Usnavi is like that and has a connection to everyone in the community. Also, I grew up in a family business so I know what it's like to have the responsibility of knowing one day the business will be mine and I will have to deal with it somehow.

Daniel Yearwood: I relate to Benny in that he is not an outsider looking in but rather is made to feel like an outsider but deeply wants to be a part of the community.

Kalyn West: I can relate pretty strongly to most everything Vanessa is going through, even down to not feeling rooted to a larger family. I love my mother and sisters; they are my core. As I mentioned, I moved a lot so I didn't have that sense of community and a lot of childhood friends. I feel Vanessa sees herself as an outsider even if she has created that in her own mind.

Debra Cardona: I grew up in Spanish Harlem so the empathy and the impulse to take care of everyone that Abuela has, I can relate to because my grandmother and my aunts did the same for me and others in our childhood neighborhood. Just to have that since of family in your community is what I can relate to.

The Fulton Theatre's production of IN THE HEIGHTS runs through April 4, 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, call: 717-397-7425 or visit Photo by Kinectiv


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