Before this week, the biggest role Alex Guzman had ever held in a play at Sacred Heart High School in Yonkers was as the ship captain in “Anything Goes.”
Or maybe a businessman in “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.”
This week, though, he’s Usnavi de la Vega, the narrator and rapper-in-chief of “In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning love letter to his neighborhood, in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge.
Guzman didn’t know the musical before the rumors starting swirling that director Rose Ann DiGennaro might choose it for this spring’s show.
“I searched it and I liked it,” he said. “That made me strive for this role.”
Alex Guzman identifies with Usnavi.
“He grew up poor, not a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not going to say I grew up poor, but I didn’t grow up with a lot of the benefits that other people have. I feel like this role is meant for me. I feel like I am Usnavi when I’m on stage, and that’s a good thing.”
We see the show, and Washington Heights, through Usnavi’s eyes.
“I tell the story,” Guzman said. “I have to make sure everybody understands it.”
The story is told in rap, which Guzman memorized without accompaniment. But Miranda’s score is set to music, which means having to work with music director Steven Loftus to marry words and music. That takes some doing.
“I feel like that’s going very well,” he said. “The show’s going to be great.”
There’s an emotional moment of loss in the story (no spoiler alerts, here), and that is the part of the work that is the biggest challenge, the 17-year-old senior said.
“I’ve never really had that sad moment in my life, yet,” he said. “It’s new for me, but I think I’m doing it pretty well.”
The song, “Alabanza,” builds on the emotions of his castmates, Guzman said.
“It’s such an emotional song and, right at the end, if we get the perfect amount of emotion, it takes away the crowd. It’s amazing.”
“In the Heights”—7 p.m., April 24 and 25; 2 p.m., April 26—$10, $8 students and seniors—914-965-6953.
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at Sacred Heart. Enjoy!