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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Get Your Theater On!!

Omg! Last night I went to see the Tony award winning production In The Heights, and it was wonderful!  Being the buff for musical productions like I am, I can be a bit critical when it comes to stage performances.  I critique the set, the singing, the timing, even the lights!  In The Heights did not disappoint me, and I am sure that it will not disappoint you.  Below is an interview conducted by our guest celebrity blogger Allegra Battle Johnson of  Reality Chicks for SpotlightPittsburgh.  Read on as Allegra talks with one of the lead characters of this touring production.

If you think there’s not enough cultural diversity in Pittsburgh, then you need to check out The Broadway musical, “In The Heights” (Playing now at the Benedum Center). With the perfect fusion of Latin, Hip Hop, Soul and Caribbean music; “In the Heights” will leave with enough cultural diversity to last a lifetime! Ok, not really a lifetime but for a really long time!

Set in Manhattan’s Washington Heights “In The Heights” has won a number of awards, including a Tony for Best Musical (2008). The show takes you on musical journey, with a neighborhood bodega as the backdrop. It’s all about finding out where you belong and loving and appreciating traditions and family.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Rogelio Douglas Jr. who plays “Benny”, the big dreamer who is best friends with Usnavi and finds himself in love with Nina. Here’s a bit of our conversation.

SLP: First of all, I had a chance to see the show last night, and it was amazing, you were awesome.

RDJ: Thank You, thank you so much. It was a long day for us but we always seem to pull it together. It was fun, this is an easy job, and I’m like wow this is called work!

SLP: Tell me a little bit about the process of you becoming a part of the national tour of “In The Heights”.

RDJ: Ok, my process overall began before the national tour. I am actually a part of the original Broadway cast. (Swing, understudy) When I finally got on as Benny, like 9 months into the run, I had to leave the show for a little while because I was booked in “The Little Mermaid” as Sebastian the Crab. And from there, they let me know that they were looking to get the tour together. But at the time I was like “I am on Broadway now” (laughs) and I didn’t know if I wanted to leave New York; cause you know when you finally get your front toe through the door it takes so long for that to happen and you want to explore the New York market a little more. Then the show unfortunately closed (The Little Mermaid) and then they called me and said the offer still stands, would you like to go on tour?

SLP: Compared to being on Broadway, how is it touring?

RDJ: It’s a challenge! (Laughs) Its definitely a challenge. Being on tour, it’s an unsettling lifestyle, while on Broadway you get to go home and you can unwind and get together with family and friends. On the road, you have to pack up your life every week. In theater we get one day off every week and while your on the road, your one day off is a travel day. Sometimes it can be very daunting but its fun.

SLP: Speaking of a little challenge, in the show you have such a diverse mix of music, Latin, Jazz, Hip Hop and a lot of the show is in Spanish. What that a challenge for you?

RDJ: Well, I actually speak Spanish. I am first generation American but my Mother and Father migrated from Panama. It’s all the music I grew up with. Growing up as a young Latino, Black Latino I guess you could say. All the music I listened to. I listen to Hip Hop because of my Mother I listened to Jazz. My father loved his Salsa and Merengue.

SLP: That seems to be an advantage.

RDJ: It is. It is actually. I love to push myself and this show demands it. For me the hip hop comes naturally and some of the singing but then how do I show Benny’s journey, and what he’s going through.

SPL: I’m wrapping up but I just wanted to get your thoughts on the devastation in Haiti. As a performer, what is, and do you think you have a responsibility as far as helping with the recovery?

RDJ: Absolutely, I think the devastation going on there and the people that are still in need of aid. Even with the efforts going on now, the food banks over there are only able to feed 1 in 8 people, so there is so much more that we need to do. Coming together globally to do our part to help lift them up and help the country get back on their feet again. In the last tour city we were able to raise money for the relief efforts.

And it touches close to me, because my childhood best friend is Haitian and his family unfortunately lost a home. His Mother, Grandmother and uncle and aunt were over there, they had left 3 days prior to it and they are going through it right now.

SLP: And finally were can we see you next, what’s going on with you after the tour?

RDJ: I consider myself a jack of all trades; I do jingles, voiceovers I have been looking, God willing to crack into the film and television world. I am currently writing music. I love to perform live. You just have to stay tuned. You can check out my website, there’s my shameless plug right now (laughs). You can check me out on I’m just on this journey right now; you just have to stay tuned!

In The Heights @ the Benedum Center now through February 7, 2010

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