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Writer Behind 'In the Heights' Pens a New La Jolla Playhouse Musical

Quiara Alegría Hudes talks finding inspiration in San Diego, the power of the classic American road trip, and working with Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda


Quiara Alegría Hudes

See It

Miss You Like Hell
Oct. 25–Dec. 4
La Jolla Playhouse

The old adage “write what you know” has been one of Quiara Alegría Hudes’s guiding career principles. Born in Philadelphia, the Puerto Rican–Jewish writer has often drawn from her own upbringing. In her Pulitzer Prize–winning Water by the Spoonful, an Iraq War veteran—based in part on her cousin—returns to Philly. Similarly, her Tony Award–winning musical In the Heights, which she wrote with Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, focuses on a Dominican neighborhood in New York City. This month at the La Jolla Playhouse, she premieres her latest piece, Miss You Like Hell, about an estranged mother and daughter who embark on a road trip.

Here, she talks about writing from experience, finding “big-time” inspiration in San Diego, and working with Mr. Hamilton.

You originally wrote Miss You Like Hell as a play called 26 Miles. How did it end up becoming a musical?

I was working on In the Heights at the time I was writing 26 Miles [around 2009], and it never occurred to me to make it a musical. I have plays that I watch years later and I feel satisfied with. 26 Miles always made me antsy. I thought, But I love something about the story, and thought I’d retell it with a musical score. 26 Miles is what I’d call my failed early attempt at this musical, which is the correct version of telling this story.

What is the crux of the story?

I was interested in exploring a mother-daughter story with a lot of love and conflict. They have seven days to have the full extent of a relationship. The part closest to home is that one of the characters is biracial. That was fun, to pump her up with some of my experiences.

What is so engaging about a road trip?

The road trip is as old as time. It’s Odysseus’s journey. It gave it a mythic template. It allows for humor. They meet strange everyday Americans. Encounters with them create a lot of comic relief.

The musical also revolves around an immigration trial that may divide the family.

The story is going to have its world premiere a handful of miles north of the border. It’s going to have particular resonance. We were in San Diego in February to do a workshop of the piece. I went with Erin McKeown, the composer, and Lear deBessonet, the director, to Friendship Park on the U.S.-Mexico border. It was moving to see people who have been separated reunite at that location. After that, we rewrote a scene that takes place there. We found big-time inspiration.

How did In the Heights land on your desk?

Lin had a whole script for it, but he had started spinning his wheels on it. They wanted someone to come in and honor the spirit of it but also make some tough decisions. [Hudes ended up writing the book, while Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music and lyrics.] It was a bit of juggling, but I think we came out on top. It gets done at colleges and high schools. I saw it in London. In the Heights lives on.

 Lin-Manuel Miranda (center) in In the Heights | Photo by Joan Marcus

What was it like working with him?

It was fantastic. It was our first professional music theater endeavor. We tried to stay true to our instincts and honor music theater history. It was a wonderful coming-of-age experience.

I heard he lives in your building and you guys often have coffee together.

Yes! That happened this morning.

So how many times have you seen Hamilton?

Do I have to admit this? Probably five times.

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