Recently, I was talking with Laurie Yarnell, the features editor who sits in the next cubicle, about how much we both enjoyed In the Heights, a musical that recently opened on Broadway. The show is about the gentrifying area of Washington Heights, way up at the tip of Manhattan, and how the residents there struggle to make a living, find happiness, and support their families. I can easily get annoyed with how corny some musical soundtracks are, but the Latin-inspired music in In the Heights is something I could see myself listening to even after leaving the theater. The dancing and acting performances were, if at all possible, even more impressive. If you’re looking to take in a Broadway show, this is certainly the one.
I was interested in the musical at first because I went to college with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and star of In the Heights. I didn’t know him; he graduated the year before me. In the years since, he wrote and now stars in a hit Broadway play, and I started this blog. I have a feeling that his story is going to sound a lot splashier at the reunion.
Anyway, the play was so good that Laurie and I were lamenting that we didn’t have a hook to write about it here. Washington Heights is pretty far north, but it’d be a stretch to say it’s in Westchester.
No sooner had we finished our conversation than I got an e-mail from Andres Patrick Forero. The Pleasantville resident is a drummer for a pit orchestra and wrote to let me know about his hit new show, In the Heights. Am I the luckiest blogger in Westchester or what?
Turns out, Forero’s musical accomplishments are more than just drumming in the orchestra pit. He’s been nominated for two Grammy awards. He’s played with Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and Dizzy Gillespie. He’s performed at the White House five times. And, besides drums, he plays 12 other instruments. He’s currently working on an album where he’ll play all of the music himself—every instrument, every song.
“I started playing when I was three or four,” he says. “At first it was just piano and guitar. I think my parents bought me my first drumset after I broke something in the house by banging on it.”
Though it doesn’t compare to playing in front of a president, In the Heights represents a significant personal victory for Forero. His journey to the pit began when he was asked to sit in for a reading the writers of the show were putting on for a group of producers. A long time passed, and he figured that nothing was going to come from the reading. Finally, he got a call saying the show had been picked up, and he was scheduled for a real audition.
Then he was in a horrendous car accident. He wasn’t sure if he could play the drums again.
“My hands weren’t responding well at all,” he says. “I had to have the drum sticks taped to my hands. It was a really bad situation, both physically and emotionally.”
Urged on by his wife Lisa, preparing for the In the Heights audition became Forero’s physical therapy. “It was intense work,” he says. He credits the show with helping him get past the extreme discouragement he experienced after the wreck. Now he takes a seat behind an 80-piece kit every night. “It’s just fantastic,” he says.
After booking the gig, Forero reports that the orchestra was very involved with filling out the score for the musical—and he couldn’t be more pleased with the way it turned out. “In the Heights fuses many different styles, just like me,” he says. “There’s Latin, jazz, pop, and hip-hop music, and even classical music, because you have to be sensitive to dynamics, volume, and follow the conductor.”
As we talk on the phone, Forero sits in a cab on his way to record the Broadway original cast recording for the show. On the taxi’s flat-screen monitor, he sees a commercial for his own musical. “Amazing,” he says. “What a feeling.”