Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) students didn’t take any shortcuts during their performances of In the Heights, a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, on Nov. 7, 8 and 9. The students danced and sang musical numbers that ranged from poignant duets to get-up-and-dance numbers like “Carnaval del Barrio.”

The musical takes place in the neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City and chronicles the experiences of the residents over three days as they go through life-altering experiences that change the directions of their lives and solidify their commitments to one another and to the neighborhood.

Matthew Brown, faculty director of the musical and choral instructor at PMSA, has a reputation for producing ambitious shows at the high school, both with his choruses and in the school’s theater performances. Brown said this particular production was “a very large undertaking.”

“This was not the junior version of the musical,” he said. “It was a full-length Broadway show, and the kids were on it from day one.” 

He and Proviso East teacher Amanda Duvall, who served as faculty director for In the Heights, let the students oversee everything.

“We took a back seat to let the students take the lead,” said Brown. “They did everything, from directing to choreographing to performing. The music that the band performed is the exact same music that professional musicians play during the musical. These kids put on a full Broadway musical.”

The schedule was grueling, with rehearsals sometimes lasting till 8 p.m. But the cast and crew seemed unfazed by the time needed to prepare.

One of the main characters in the show, Usnavi De La Vega, was played by PMSA sophomore Sebastian Arrendondo, who said balancing the demands of curriculum and the musical wasn’t a problem.

It was Arrendondo’s first time performing in a play or musical — or being on stage at all for that matter — and he was surprised to get the part. 

“Getting to be a part of this was exciting,” said Arrendondo, who plans to audition for more roles in the future.

Sophomore Edidya Soloman, who played the part of Vanessa, said she’d had small parts in plays before, but this was her first time as a lead in a musical. 

“I was surprised and terrified when I got the part,” she said. “I loved being in the musical. It was tiring, and the practices were long, but it was an amazing experience. I’m sad it’s over.” 

Junior Yirenny Cordero, who has been in PMSA performances before, worked as assistant tech director and choreographer for the production along with Calvin Castillo, assistant director and choreographer. 

“It was such a cool experience,” said Cordero. The decision to work behind the scenes instead of as a performer was the right thing, she said, since she’s currently also acting as stage manager in a production of Matilda at the Theater of Western Springs.

Additional cast included Katrina Sager, Elian Pena, Kalaya Melancon, Zora Murphy, Khari Muhammad, Julian Elizondo, Amie Isfan, Arianna Cordova, Diamond Hatchett, Isaiah Raglin, Diego Diaz and America Acosta.

Brown said he loves seeing the students learn and grow with each practice and performance. And his goal is to eventually organize a district-wide performance, including PMSA, Proviso East and Proviso West. 

“Bringing all three schools together would be fantastic,” said Brown.

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