BWW Interview: Kurt Stamm Says IN THE HEIGHTS at Saugatuck Center For The Arts Will Remind You to Keep Family and Friends Close
Lights up on Washington Heights! Until July 14th, you can witness Lin-Manuel Miranda's hugely successful musical, In The Heights, at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. In The Heights was a smash hit on Broadway, going on to win such awards as the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical, the Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album, and the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music. If that wasn't enough, it was also a Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist in 2009.
The currently-running production at Saugatuck Center for the Arts was directed by Broadway and off-Broadway director Kurt Stamm. BWW Detroit recently had the opportunity to talk with Stamm all about his career, this production, and his introduction to In The Heights. You can read our interview below!
For an introduction, can you give BWW readers a brief background of yourself and your theatre career?
Kurt Stamm: Born and raised in Wyoming, I got my music and theatre degrees from the University of Utah. I then moved to New York and started my theatre career as a singer and dancer before transitioning into directing and choreographing. For many years I worked with Richard Maltby, Jr., who was an amazing mentor, and had the great fortune to be the assistant director of Fosse on Broadway. I also co-directed and choreographed the Off-Broadway production of Closer Than Ever in 2012.
In 2002, I started Mason Street Warehouse alongside the Saugatuck Center for the Arts in an abandoned pie factory in Saugatuck, MI. Since then, we've grown into one large arts organization that includes professional theatre, concerts, films, adult and children's art classes, education outreach, and a year-round visual arts gallery with rotating exhibits. This is our 17th theatre season which includes In The Heights, Unnecessary Farce, and A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.
In a couple words, how would you describe In The Heights?
In The Heights is about home, community, and how we deal with change in our lives.
What was your introduction to In The Heights?
I direct several promotional events for Broadway every year, and in 2007, I met Lin-Manuel Miranda when he came to introduce his new show, In The Heights, at one of these events. He couldn't have been a more lovely person. I then saw the show shortly after it opened in 2008, and I knew it was a show that I would do one day at Mason Street. The music, the story, and the dancing were all so beautiful and infectious.
What made Mason Street Warehouse apt to put on a production of this show? What made you specifically excited to direct this musical?
Since I started the theatre, my goal has been to bring more contemporary shows to West Michigan. Over our 17 seasons, we've done a few classics like Cabaret and Chicago, but we predominately do newer works. (Not that I have anything against classic musicals.) I cut my teeth in the industry doing just about every Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that exists, but I wanted a theatre where the audience could also experience the newest works coming out of Broadway as well as producing new works ourselves.
What makes this interpretation of In the Heights unique?
This production of In The Heights will only be done at this theatre, on this set, with this cast for three and half weeks and then it's over. That, in and of itself, makes it unique. Many of my actors have done other productions of the show, but this is the first time they've done it here with this combination of people. My co-choreographer, Jay Gamboa, and I also wanted to do our own take on the movement in the show, blending hip-hop and contemporary styles with Latin dance. It's all original.
What would you say is the main takeaway of this musical? In other words, what will audiences come out of this musical thinking about?
I feel one of the main takeaways is the connection we have with these characters. Regardless of race and economics, at our core we all deal with the issues these characters deal with in the show: family, community, and home.
Do you have a favorite song in the show? Favorite scene?
That's a difficult question. There's something to love and connect with in each character, but I really love the song "When You're Home." For me, "When You're Home" is a song about being grounded, the very essence of your core, and where you draw strength from.
What do you believe makes In The Heights so relevant for a 2019 American audience?
What is happening in this story is happening all across the world. Families and communities are being displaced and moved out because of gentrification. But also, it's a reminder to keep our priorities in check and to keep family and friends close.
What would you say to someone with no or limited prior knowledge of In The Heights to get them to come see this production?
In some ways, I feel like In The Heights was the next Rent. It was the first musical to incorporate rap and hip hop into a musical in a way that was accessible to all audiences. Because the plot lines in the show are universal, it's easy to connect with the characters and their stories regardless of background and location. And, it was written by the creator of Hamilton!
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