Interview with Frank D. Shutts II on Directing ‘In the Heights’ at The Little Theatre of Alexandria July 25th-August 15th

I sat down and asked veteran Director Frank Shutts his thoughts, visions, and hopes for LTA’s summer production of the 2008 Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights which opens on July 25th and plays through August 15th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria.

Joel: Why did you want to direct In the Heights and bring it to LTA?

Director Frank Shutts.

Director Frank Shutts. Photo by Keith Waters.

Frank: “I have waited five years to share this breakthrough musical with the DMV audience! In the Heights first came to my attention in 2010 when I saw the original production on Broadway. I was so taken by it that I called home afterwards to discuss it but was so overwhelmed that I had to hang up and call back later. This is definitely one show that you will talk about when it is over and not just throw the program in the back seat of the car and drive home unmoved!

What is the show about?

It is the story of a tight-knit community in northern Manhattan where the George Washington Bridge connects New Jersey and New York, commonly called Washington Heights. It is a neighborhood of transplanted and first- and second-generation immigrants trying to keep their own traditions while pursuing the American dream. It is Fiddler on a Roof and West Side Story for today’s audience in today’s vernacular and today’s sounds.

Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer of the pre-opening box office record-breaking Hamilton (now in previews on Broadway) and writer Quiara Alegría Hudes give In the Heights its authenticity. From rap/hip-hop to Latin salsa to Broadway ballad, from standard English to the few Spanglish words and phrases peppered throughout, this is not your grandmother’s musical. And yet it is….

Abuela—Spanish for grandmother—Claudia, whose mother tore them from Cuba in hopes of finding work in New York, is one the main characters in the show. She is the voice of tradition; she is home for the lost souls who are trying to find themselves: Usnavi, a young bodega owner; Nina, a struggling freshman in college; and for others who are struggling to form their new identity.

How did you cast the show and where did you find your cast?

I was very lucky to be able to cast this show. No area community theater has the upper hand when casting Hispanic roles, especially LTA. I aggressively pursued all possibilities of reaching the talent we needed, primarily college-age and middle-age Latino singers/actors.

The cast of LTA's 'In the Heights.' Photo by Keith Waters.

The cast of LTA’s ‘In the Heights.’ Photo by Keith Waters.

I contacted the musical theater departments of local universities, Latin fraternities and sororities, social media (like DCMetroTheaterArts) and relied on word-of-mouth to get the audition announcements out. Thankfully, we were able to cast the show correctly in regards to age and ethnicity requirements! It didn’t hurt that this show is a favorite among Latino performing arts groups.

I hope those unfamiliar with this show will take a chance and see what tomorrow’s musicals can be, should be, and must be. Lin-Manuel Miranda is already changing its definition!”


In the Heights plays from July 25-August 15, 2015 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria- 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 683-0496, or purchase them online.

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