Last Friday’s sold-out benefit performance of “In the Heights,” the Tony-Award winning Broadway musical created by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, raised $1.5 million for University financial aid. Thirty-eight scholarships will be supported by these funds, which represent a combination of ticket purchases by alumni, parents and friends of the University, and alumni donations.
Vice President for University Relations Barbara-Jan Wilson enthusiastically noted the parallels between the show’s plot and the benefit’s intentions.
“The play is [in part] about a student who loses her scholarship to Stanford,” Wilson wrote in an e-mail. “So raising money for scholarships was our goal!”
With a crowd made up of University trustees, alumni, parents, students, faculty and senior staff, among others, school spirit ran high throughout the evening. After the audience gave a standing ovation, Miranda raced off stage and returned moments later donning a Wesleyan T-shirt. He spoke directly to the audience, asking if the crowd saw any resemblances between the show’s corner bodega and Neon Deli.
He then brought out other alumni connected with the musical, including director Tommy Kail ’99 and friends John Mailer ’00 and Neil Stewart ’00, who first introduced Miranda and Kail. Miranda, who won the Tony Award for Best Score and was nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, began work on “In the Heights” while at the University, and the first staged production took place in 2000 at the ’92 Theater when he was a sophomore. He also introduced Gilbert Parker ’48, a mentor who is said to have been the first University student to major in theater. Before the crowd dispersed, Miranda led the entire theater in the Wesleyan fight song.
The event originated when an anonymous donor informed the University that he or she had purchased each of the 1,319 seats and 21 standing room spaces within the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Manhattan, the home of “In the Heights,” for the show’s Sept. 5 performance. Tickets were then distributed by the University in a variety of configurations, ranging from full-price seats costing $125 to two-for-one ticket deals for alumni who graduated in the last 10 years. According to Director of Campaign Planning Anne Bergen, 40 percent of ticket purchasers were graduates of the last decade, also known as GOLD alumni.
In addition, 275 current students received complimentary tickets. Various alumni underwrote seats for senior interviewers and Red and Black student callers, and 200 tickets were given away in an all-student lottery held over the summer. Many of these students received seats in the mezzanine of the theater, where they found complimentary “In the Heights” T-shirts draped over their chairs.
Select members of the audience also attended an after-party at the nearby Edison Ballroom. Though planned by University events staff, the same donor who bought out the theater suggested and paid for the event. Kinky Spigot and the Welders, a band comprised of students from the classes of ’07, ’08 and ’09, performed energized renditions of such favorites as “Heard it Through the Grapevine” and “Crazy.” Television screens ran stills of the original campus production of “In the Heights” on a loop.
President Michael Roth succinctly summed up the general good feelings of the night. Appearing on stage after the show accompanied by the waving Cardinal mascot, Roth quickly took in the musical’s elaborate set before shouting out to the cheering audience, “This is so cool!”