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Award-winning composer, lyricist, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda is ready to make a stage comeback as the lead character in the hit musical "Hamilton" in Puerto Rico, the island where his father grew up and where Miranda spent many childhood summers with his grandparents and extended family.
From Jan. 11 to Jan. 27, Miranda and the "Hamilton" cast are set to perform 23 shows to raise money for the Flamboyan Arts Fund — a grant program created by Miranda and his family to help artists and arts institutions in Puerto Rico and promote arts in the island.
"Our goal is to raise as much as we can for the arts, artists and arts organizations still recovering from Hurricane Maria. That's the plan," said Miranda during a recent "Tonight Show" appearance. Miranda and host Jimmy Fallon announced they will be together on the island for a special "Tonight Show" on Jan. 15 focusing on ongoing recovery efforts.
In recent days, Miranda has been documenting the preparations for "Hamilton" on Twitter.
“Our set is ready,” he tweeted, sharing some behind-the-scenes pictures.
But Puerto Rican fans like Vanessa Viera and her son Antonio González have been ready for the occasion way longer than that — since November to be exact.
After many unsuccessful attempts to see the musical on Broadway, the San Juan-based businesswoman and her son did not want to miss what they considered to be the opportunity of a lifetime — to be able to see their favorite Puerto Rican artist perform their favorite musical in their homeland.
“I planned everything out,” Viera told NBC News between giggles. “I went to ‘Amigo’ [a Puerto Rican supermarket that has a ticket booth] beforehand to make sure that they actually had the tickets and at what time I had to be there to get them. I made sure to have all the information I needed to be there waiting in line.”
Like many fans, they both waited in line for about four hours to get four tickets for the show. They were even able to meet Lin-Manuel’s father, Luis Miranda, during that time.
Viera and González are going to see the production on Jan. 26, alongside two other family members. And González is making sure that his mother is ready to sing along the tunes.
“My son plays the songs in the car, so I can learn them too. But I already know most of them,” Viera said in Spanish.
A change of venue
Shortly after Hurricane Maria ransacked Puerto Rico, Miranda announced that he was bringing "Hamilton" to the island to perform the award-winning musical at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) theater, where several of Miranda's family members have studied.
Miranda told Primera Hora, a national newspaper in Puerto Rico, that the "Hamilton" production spent $1 million to rebuild UPR’s theater after the hurricane — including ceiling repairs, new dressing rooms and an upgraded lighting system. The university also invested money to prepare the facilities.
But two weeks ago, the show's main producer, Jeffrey Seller, announced a change of venue, from the UPR theater to the Centro De Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Center) in Santurce. He said it was easier to provide police protection to theatergoers and the cast in the new place, since police have traditionally been restricted from university campuses in the island. According to a university newspaper, there were worries over possible disruptions and protests due to tensions between one of the university's unions and school administrators.
Like the rest of the island, the public university is grappling with a serious deficit and an uncertain financial future. The federally appointed oversight board — whose spending plans have been a source of controversy in the island — approved a debt-restructuring plan for UPR that includes an increase in costs per credit, cuts in operational expenses, a freeze on employer contributions to employees’ retirement plan and the consolidation of campuses.
The approved plan partly fueled the employee union dispute within the university.
Following the change of venue, the university's main student council wrote in a press release that the loss of the show was a "blow to our university community spirit." They asked for the producers to reconsider to demonstrate "the ability we have as an institution to host events of worldwide importance.”
Others in the island expressed frustration over disputes which could have jeopardized the production of the show.
“What happened at the UPR really hit me,” said Viera. “Here like in many places, people always want to get their way and things end up getting messed up. But in this case, at least, there was a solution in the end.”
Jowen Ortíz-Cintrón, a fifth-year student at the campus, was disappointed that the tensions polarized the campus, just like political issues do on the rest of the island.
But he hopes that the island, still reeling from its devastating storm and its financial situation, can take a page from the award-winning musical.
“The truth is that 'Hamilton' is a play that talks about revolution. They even took a stance and gave a speech to the vice president [of the U.S.], about how people should fight for their rights. And I think we should all listen to that message … and seek a way to fight together and stop blaming each other for things.”