By PAM HARBAUGH
Giving contemporary voice to a diverse community enriches the cultural landscape, says David Morales. He stars as the narrator Usnavi in “In the Heights,” which opens Friday at Cocoa Village Playhouse.
“It means the world to me to be a part of something like this, to be acknowledged,” says Mr. Morales, 26. “As a Hispanic person, there are a lot of shows written during a time when none of us had a voice. This America is so much more diverse and vibrant. It’s not a play about thugs or gangsters or maids or janitors. We’re just normal people (with) dreams, aspirations, children, wives, working for that pursuit of happiness.”
“In the Heights” has music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Set in a Dominican-American neighborhood in New York City’s Washington Heights, the story spans three hot summer days around the Fourth of July. In it, we meet a number of residents and learn about their hopes and dreams and how they struggle for a piece of the American pie.
If Mr. Morales looks familiar, it’s because he also starred as Thuy in Cocoa Village Playhouse’s production of “Miss Saigon.” His performance electrified audiences. This role as Usnavi, though, is more of a challenge because the phenom who originated it, Lin-Manual Miranda — an iconic figure on the American stage whose fame has accelerated even further with “Hamilton” which he also wrote, composed and stars in.
So, yeah, there was a bit of “trepidation” when taking on the role, Mr. Morales says. He wants to make it his own, not an impersonation of Mr. Miranda.
“There are certain highlights of that original character, but I want to bring my own spin to it,” he says. “I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from how his portrayal, but I’m taking it into my own direction for certain moments in the show.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Mr. Morales came to Brevard when he was very young. He’s lived in Port St. John, Cocoa Beach and now in Cape Canaveral. He started performing at Titusville Playhouse when he was six years old. He immersed himself in theater and except for two years, has performed on stage constantly.
Last year, he went to Los Angeles to see if he could break into TV or film. He found himself cast in “the background” for shows like “Scorpion” and “CSI.” But he loves the stage, so he came back here. He plans on moving to New York City next year to pursue a career as an actor.
But first, he just had to do “In the Heights.”
“This show is so full of energy and passion and heart,” he says. “It’s definitely a must-see. It has a brand new modern pop Latin sound. You can’t help but dance in your seat. The story it tells, you are going to identify with someone in it. There’s a vibrancy to the characters. Unlike any other show, it has such a calling of home.
“The set design for this show is amazing. They tried to build it as true as possible to the Broadway design. It’s a little piece of Broadway on our stage.”
SIDE O’ GRITS: “In the Heights” runs April 29 to May 15 at the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, 300 Brevard Ave., Cocoa. Tickets are $16 to $24. Call 321-636-5050, visit CocoaVillagePlayhouse.com. or, click onto their ad on the right side of this page and show your appreciation for Cocoa Village Playhouse’s support of Brevard Culture.
BONUS: Here’s a video produced by Cocoa Village Playhouse.