A high school musical running at Edmonton’s Victoria School of the Arts this weekend received some help from a Broadway heavy hitter.
The show is doing much more than just educating students about musical theatre.
The Lin-Manuel Miranda musical In The Heights carries some heavy themes for school-aged kids.
“It’s about a real-life community called Washington Heights in New York, which is a predominantly Latino, immigrant population,” said Raquel Medina, cast member and pupil at Vic.
The Tony Award winner explores the themes of community and the struggles of immigrants in America. It’s an important story to share for the Mexican-born student.
“Obviously a lot of the issues that are touched on in the show are very incredibly personal to me,” Medina explained.
The show hit the stage on Broadway in 2008 and has an Edmonton connection.
Michelle Rios was an original cast member who now lives here. The Puerto Rico native worked with students to help them better understand their characters.
“The trajectory of coming to a new country and the struggles and the obstacles” the characters go through was Rios’ focus with the kids.
She says the story of In The Heights helps actors understand and appreciate communities different from their own.
“I just hope that the students walk away with that sense of wanting to go out and really, really go in the direction of your dreams,” said Rios, “and not be afraid to follow them – no matter where you come from.”
The lessons learned by students have been so much deeper than technique notes.
“It’s really rare for me — not just as an immigrant, but also a young Latino woman — to see myself represented on stage by characters that aren’t necessarily a stereotype,” Medina explained.
For her, starring in a production that depicts the Latino American existence, free of slapstick cultural clichés, has been extremely uplifting.
“It just really becomes the foundation on which someone like me can build a lot of self esteem and a lot of confidence.”
In The Heights plays at the Eva O. Howard Theatre on Friday, March 15 and Saturday, March 16. Tickets are available by calling the Victoria School of the Arts box office at 780-392-3534.
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