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Approaching Transnational America in Performance

Edited By Birgit M. Bauridl and Pia Wiegmink

The volume is uniquely located at the interdisciplinary crossroads of Performance Studies and transnational American Studies. As both a method and an object of study, performance deepens our understanding of transnational phenomena and America’s position in the world. The thirteen original contributions make use of the field’s vast potential and critically explore a wide array of cultural, political, social, and aesthetic performances on and off the stage. They scrutinize transnational trajectories and address issues central to the American Studies agenda such as representation, power, (ethnic and gender) identities, social mobility, and national imaginaries. As an American Studies endeavor, the volume highlights the cultural, political, and (inter)disciplinary implications of performance.

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In the Heights: Performing Change as Evolving Transnational Tradition (Nassim Winnie Balestrini)

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Nassim Winnie Balestrini

In the Heights: Performing Change as Evolving Transnational Tradition

Abstract: Reading Miranda and Hudes’s 2008 musical In the Heights in conjunction with Fiddler on the Roof and hip-hop theater positions the Latina/o and African American cast of characters at the crossroads of multiple theatrical traditions. The use of rap foregrounds the centrality of discourse in cultural formations via politicized narration and word play.

1  Categorization Quandaries

As a college sophomore in 1999, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a U.S.-born son of Puerto Rican immigrants, pens the first draft of a musical focused on a predominately Latina/o neighborhood in contemporary New York City. Between 2003 and 2008, Miranda collaborates with Puerto Rican-Jewish-American playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes to develop and rewrite the book, while he creates the lyrics and the music. The Broadway production of In the Heights then wins, among numerous other accolades, the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical. A string of productions outside the United States of America follows.

According to Jill Furman, who authored the introduction to the published libretto, In the Heights is “rooted in traditional musical theater ground” but also “helped usher in a new era on Broadway by being the first musical to successfully integrate hip-hop into the aural landscape” (xi). Furthermore, the work “depict[s] Latino culture in a positive and realistic light, whereas the few previous theatrical examples [are], unfortunately, more stereotypical and negative” (xi). In other words,...

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