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In the Heights Author Quiara Hudes Talks Community, Success, and Her Abuelita

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Born to a Jewish father and a Puerto Rican mother, and raised in West Philly, playwright Quiara Hudes had plenty of sources to inspire her to write the Tony Award winning In the Heights, which opens March 29 at the Arsht Center for a limited six-day run. Showcasing hip-hop, salsa, merengue and soul music, In the Heights takes us on an eclectic musical journey through a Dominican-American neighborhood in Washington Heights filled with colorful characters dealing with the growing pains of their urban upbringing.

We asked Ms. Hudes if any of the characters in her play were taken from real-life personalities in her own life, as well as her inspiration for penning In the Heights.

New Times: What was the inspiration for writing In the Heights?

Quiara Hudes: My undying interest in and love for urban communities. Growing up in Philly, I fell in love with the international vibe of West Philly, the Latino vibe of North Philly, the Italian Market, and Chinatown. In the Heights was an opportunity to tell a story about a community on the brink of change. A community full of life, vibrancy, immigrant stories, American dreams, struggles, and successes.

Are there any autobiographical elements in any of the characters or stories?

As with all my characters, there are parts of me and the people I've known in many of the characters. My own abuela informed Abuela Claudia. My little sister was a good template for Sonny's humor. Kevin Rosario really is like my stepfather in his love of owning a business and his insistence that his children go further than he has.

How does it feel to see your art go from inception to off-Broadway to a Tony Award-winning musical that's touring nationwide?

Stressful, exhausting, and ultimately, like an incredible blessing. I already knew how to work hard, but I learned how to focus that work, how to grow thick skin and keep pushing that boulder up the hill. There is pride in that.

There are some universal themes in the show. Do you think it's the whole "triumph over adversity" or "family ties" that's hit closer to home for audiences?

To me, it's about family ties the most. How do you do your roots proud, while at the same time pushing yourself to go further and explore new things? The push and pull, the tug of war, of following your heart's desire while honoring those you have loved. Many times, those two things work in concert. But many times they are in conflict with each other, and this piece is about finding that balance.

In the Heights opens Tuesday, March 29 at the Arsht Center's Ziff Ballet opera House (1300 Biscayne Blvd.) at 8 p.m and runs through April 3. Tickets cost $25 to $69. Visit arshtcenter.org or call 305-949-6722 

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