“The Spanish-speaking culture really unites all of these people, even though on the show they’re from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, etc. It’s really important that she shows those cultures, and that’s really important that it shows racism within a specific marginalized community,” she said. Miranda, who was criticized for colorism in the film adaptation of the show, addressed the issue of anti-Blackness prevalent in the musical’s Latinx community. This occurs most directly in the relationship between Nina Rosario, a Puerto Rican college student, and Benny, a black cab dispatcher working for Nina’s father, who must struggle with the older man’s racism.
It was these conversations about identity both on and off stage that fascinated Mara Sims, “the theater kid.” The 19-year-old freshman said she sees identities as an inherent and automatic part of being an individual. But Miller’s view that identities are a performance led The Sims to think about the concept in a new way, she said.
“When I say we always carry out our identities, I draw attention to the fact that who we are is the product of what we do,” Miller explained. “Our individual performance is also always framed by expectations of us, which include expectations based on race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, etc.”
While getting students to think critically about performing on Broadway, Miller is candid about his personal experiences as a white man, the students said. Morejon also noted his willingness to learn as much from the students as he hopes to teach them. “I think it’s really valuable to have someone like that as a teacher for a class like this,” she said.
For his part, Miller has been impressed with the way his students approach complex discussions of identity and representation. “They all come with a set of instincts about what authentic and ethical representation looks like, and those instincts vary wildly,” he said. “I learn a lot just from hearing everyone think about the implications of the work we’re discussing, reminding myself of how obvious what seems to me is, in fact, far from obvious to another student.”