James A. Rocco and Alberto Justiniano Collaborate on IN THE HEIGHTS at the Ordway
James A. Rocco, Broadway veteran and Producing Artistic Director of The Ordway, and Alberto Justiniano, Founding Member and Artistic Director of Teatro del Pueblo, conclude a creative collaboration with Friday, September 15th opening of Lin Manuel-Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS at The Ordway. IN THE HEIGHTS opened on Broadway in 2008 and won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Choreography, Orchestration, and Score. Lin Manuel-Miranda wrote the music and lyrics and Quiara Alegria Hudes wrote the book. The show explores the cultural integrity of New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood as American-born children of immigrants struggle to balance the importance of tradition with the inevitability of change.
"The show is so fresh and so important," Rocco says. "It's an authentic look at Latinx culture today. Its message is that traditions define us, ground us, and give us purpose. But how do we cope when they fall away, or even worse, when we have to leave them to find our individual purposes?"
Rocco and Justiniano's collaboration began 2 years ago when the two were discussing the impact of musical theatre. Justiniano describes the collaboration as a rare opportunity for the two groups to create theatre together. Rocco says, "Musical theatre today is experiencing a Renaissance. The impetus for our collaboration was to contribute to the Renaissance by offering career and skill-building opportunities to individuals of all cultural backgrounds and incorporate those in The Ordway's productions of WEST SIDE STORY and IN THE HEIGHTS. Our single, collaborative goal with these productions was to pass this art form onto a new generation."
WEST SIDE STORY, the iconic Bernstein / Sondheim 1957 musical that portrays the devastating effects of racism on community opened last Spring at the Ordway and broke records for attendance.
"We took a frank look at that amazing show," Rocco says. "It's power and beauty-even today-are undeniable. But it paints the warring gangs so broadly that some felt it falls into stereotypes. Doing it back-to-back with IN THE HEIGHTS-shows written fifty years apart-was astonishing for Al and me. And we hope for the audiences, too."
Rocco, who has written extensively about the history of musical theatre in his popular BROADWAY SONGBOOK series, sees the collaboration as furthering the musical's original intent.
"The American musical was born out of the extreme diversity of New York's lower east side in the 1890s. Twelve million people from three dozen countries immigrated to America in thirty years, most of them landing on Ellis Island. It's from that level of diversity that the American musical was born. And the shows were entirely unifying."
IN THE HEIGHTS is co-directed and co-choreographed by James A. Rocco and Alberto Justiniano, in association with Ashley Selmer, Giselle Mejia, and Alexander Gil Cruz, three young theatre artists that have been part of this artistic collaborative journey. Musical direction by Eugenio Vargas, set by Anna Louizos, lighting by Jesse Cogswell, costumes by Trevor Bowen, and sound design by Andy
Horka for Big Air Production.. Assistant directors/choreographers Louise Madison and Lisa Bartholenew-Given. The show begins a two-week run this Friday at The Ordway. Shows are at 7:30, Tuesday through Friday and 2:00 and 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit www.ordway.org.
James Rocco is Vice President of Programming and Producing Artistic Director at The Ordway. He has booked Broadway touring shows such as August, Osage County, Next to Normal, and Memphis.
He has been a Producing Partner for The Color Purple, Fun Home, and An American In Paris. He has produced and directed award-winning shows at The Ordway including Love, Janis, Cabaret (with 5th Avenue Theatre), White Christmas, Jesus Christ Superstar, West Side Story, and Grey Gardens. On Broadway he replaced Terrance Mann in the original production of CATS and staged The Wizard of Oz with Roseanne and Eartha Kitt. His workas a director, producer and writer has been seen around the world. In 2013, Rocco was honored for his decades-long contributions to musical theatre by Broadway Salutes, a virtual Theatrical Hall of Fame presented by The Broadway League and The Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds (COBUG). Rocco is an original founding member of THIRTY SAINTS PRODUCTIONS, which has written, produced, and directed 12 original shows in the BROADWAY SONGBOOK® series, co-produced Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Tokyo), and is a Producing Partner in the new hit, Come from Away.
Alberto Justiniano is the founder and Artistic Director of Teatro del Pueblo, a theatre that promotes Latino culture through the performing arts. He curates Teatro's Political Theatre series and the Latino/Asian Fusion series with the Pangea World Theatre. Justiniano is the author of 3 children's plays, produced by Stepping Stone Theatre, and 6 stage plays for adults. He has produced and directed for film and television, including programs aired on PBS nationally. His many awards include the St. Paul Companies' Leadership and Arts Award, Francisco-Rosales Community Award, Target Community Award, The Playwright Center's