Musical fans around the world took the news hard this week that In the Heights is being delayed a full 12 months. And stage and screen star Christopher Jackson might be one of them. While he recently told us he understands there are more important things going on in the world at this time, he’s still incredibly excited for fans and newcomers alike to experience the lights up on Washington Heights… especially after being so impressed by the new cast when he visited the In the Heights set to film a scene.
“I may have been on-set, I may have done a little cameo, possibly,” Jackson teased with a laugh while chatting with Den of Geek deputy editor Chris Longo for our baseball-themed interview series MLB The Show (The Show). The confession came during a virtual interview about Jackson’s time on another Broadway musical, Bronx Bombers, and his love of baseball. Yet his frequent collaboration with composer-lyricist-actor and many other hyphens, Lin-Manuel Miranda, invariably came up since their first stage show together, In the Heights, is about to get the big screen treatment—one that includes cameos for both of them.
Reflecting on his visit to the In the Heights set, Jackson said, “I’ve talked to several of the folks who were new to the project and experienced the show when they were shooting it, and the thing that is consistent, whether it’s a high school prdioduction in Iowa or a multimillion-dollar film, everyone has the same experience. It’s a beautiful show and the story elicits so much of the best of us, and I think what Jon [M. Chu] and Lin and Quiara [Alegría Hudes], what they were able to do in terms of adapting the script for the big screen could not have been [more] spot on or pitch perfect.”
Jackson’s history with In the Heights goes back to the musical’s original Waterford, Connecticut and Off-Broadway runs in 2007. Playing Benny, the only character in the musical who does not speak Spanish and dreams of big business riches, Jackson stayed with the project from its out-of-town tryout to its Broadway debut in 2008 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. It would go on to win four Tonys, including Best Musical, and set Miranda on the path to writing the book, music, and lyrics of Hamilton, the zeitgeist shattering musical in which Jackson also starred as George Washington. Jackson earned a Tony nomination for his performance and also worked with Anthony Ramos in the original Broadway cast, which in turn paved the way for Ramos to star in the In the Heights movie.
“I could not be more excited for the world to see and experience this story, because the cast is incredible,” Jackson said. “Anthony Ramos, who plays Usnavi, he’s always been such a brilliant artist, but I think this movie is really going to showcase how brilliant he is.”
On visiting the production as it filmed in the real Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, Jackson added, “I think it’s another neighborhood in New York City, in one of the biggest cities in the world, but it is unlike any other neighborhood in terms of its aesthetic, in terms of the people, in terms of just the feeling you get when you’re in that part of the city. And to have shot that anywhere else would have been folly, and it wouldn’t have made sense. The whole movie takes place in about a 10-block square radius in Washington Heights, and if you’ve ever been to Washington Heights, you’re going to see [it in full].”
During our conversation with Jackson, much of which you can see below, the actor and composer reflected on his early love for the Mets, as well as the time he finally met Derek Jeter, who he played in Brooklyn Bombers, only after leaving that show. He even recalled participating in a Broadway softball league during the In the Heights years—and rather cryptically evaluating Lin-Manuel Miranda’s prowess at the bat with “Lin’s one of the best writers in the world, man.”
He also revealed he’ll be working again with Miranda soon.
“I’ll be shooting Tick, Tick… Boom!,” Jackson said. “They were shooting and once that resumes [I’ll be filming.]”
Tick, Tick… Boom! is a film adaptation of a less well-known musical written by Jonathan Larson. Indeed, Miranda has spoken repeatedly about how Larson and his generation-defining musical, Rent, was an inspiration for him, even as Larson did not live to see it, tragically dying the night before Rent’s first Off-Broadway preview performance. Bringing a brighter spotlight to Larson’s talent with Tick, Tick… Boom! appears to be a passion project for Miranda and now also Jackson, who hopes to work on the film when it’s safe again while also shooting the CBS series Bull and recording new music. Jackson also will be appearing next year in Disney’s theatrical release of a video recording of the Hamilton original Broadway cast. So while George Washington might be going home, Jackson has plenty of reason to leave the house soon.