116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Nearly 10 years ago, Lovar Davis Kidd was soaring to new career heights, performing on the second national tour of the Broadway musical, “In the Heights.”
Now back home in Cedar Rapids, he was among the first to see the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highflying musical on the big screen June 10.
“I was overwhelmed, to say the least,” Kidd said. “It is such a beautiful story and to be able to see it actually a year after its original release date was postponed by COVID — I’ve been anticipating it, revisiting our cast’s production of it from 2011-2012.
“It was just so beautifully done. Being able to see it on the big screen had a huge impact. It just felt like the right type of summer movie,” he added.
“It is an amazing, amazing, amazing story of finding home, and the casting was absolutely phenomenal from top to bottom. The direction, the additions to the music — some of the orchestrations have been changed slightly — they altered the storyline just a bit, but for all the right reasons.
“It was a very emotional experience,” he said of seeing the already hit film.
The action centers on New York City’s diverse Washington Heights district, a catalyst especially for Latin American immigrants. Bodega owner Usnavi (originally played by Miranda on Broadway) describes the tight-knit neighborhood as “a block that was disappearing,” a place where “the streets were made of music” and “everybody’s got a job, everybody’s got a dream.”
Usnavi has been saving “every penny” to realize his dream of returning to his roots in the Dominican Republic, to revitalize his late father’s business. Other characters move through their own roller coaster ride of dreams and disappointments, sacrifices, sorrows and successes, set to a soundtrack of Latin, hip-hop and contemporary beats.
Kidd — who studied dance at the University of Iowa, taught there as a visiting artist, and has extensive performance and choreography experience — said the opening number, with its blend of ballet, tap and Latin styles, will show viewers “what dance can be.”
“There is a need to decolonize dance history in the United States, but in the world as a whole,” said Kidd, whose late father was Black and his mother is white. “Dance in general is a very, very white-focused entity, and so I love that there are now these movies and TV shows and artists that are out there showing the beauty of diverse movement and song.”
And even though he said the show’s story is timeless, he noted some themes in subsequent productions of the 2008 Tony-winning Best Musical and today’s film version have been adapted to reflect current conditions.
He likened Miranda’s approach to the story as being a reversal of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Whereas the iconic “Fiddler” is “about a community that never changes,” he said “In the Heights” is “about a community that always changes.”
“Oftentimes those changes are forced upon a community of people, and you have to figure out what you can do to not only survive, but also to thrive,” he said.
The filmmakers “did an amazing job of bringing in the ideas of the ‘Dreamers’ that have been struggling so long with our last President making it pretty hard for anyone from Latin America or anyone that’s Latino or Latina or of Mexican descent to feel welcome in this country,” he said.
Kidd believes the movie will stir compassion for their plight, continuing conversations about immigration and gentrification, which is happening in cities large and small across the country.
Viewers will leave “wanting to do something about it,” he said, “being part of the good change as opposed to the bad change of forcing people out of the neighborhoods they’ve grown up in, and the only place that they’ve known.
“It will spark more conversations about what it means to find home, (when) there’s so much desire to leave, to go somewhere else, to start over to do all of these things people expect of you,” he said, which mirrors his own story.
“I have people on a regular basis who are like, ‘Why are you in Cedar Rapids,’” he said. “I have two wonderful kids who keep me here. It’s a wonderful community, and this is the place I call home.”
As much as he loves to travel, perform and bring back information from other places, he said he’s never really considered living anywhere else.
“It’s a community I want to build up — and create more diversity in our city, more equity in our city and more inclusion — and just really be a catalyst for the change that needs to happen. I think those are the conversations that will happen. Those are the conversations that hopefully will move the narrative forward, for the positive change that needs to happen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but in the United States as a whole.”
Meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda
Kidd has met the man whose theatrical artistry is breaking barriers for people of color through “In the Heights,” opening on Broadway in 2008, followed by “Hamilton” in 2015.
“He does an amazing job of giving voices to those who often have been voiceless,” Kidd said. “He understands the importance of representation and uses projects that allow for the narrative of disenfranchised people to be moved forward in a positive light.”
Kidd first met Miranda after attending a production of “In the Heights” in New York, long before he auditioned for the show. He loved the show so much that after seeing it, he bought a ticket to see it again the next day. And when Miranda was signing autographs afterward, Kidd told him: “I’m going to be in your show.” Four years later, that dream came true.
“At that point in time, (Miranda) would come to rehearsals and we wouldn’t even know that he was there. You would just look up and he would be sitting in a corner, taking notes. He was pretty quiet during that process,” Kidd said. “But also, if anyone approached him, he was so nice and so personable and kind, and he just loved the fact that his story was continuing to be told. You could just sense it in his presence that he loved every single aspect about the process.”
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