He was named after a soap opera villain – the kind last known to be in a coma in a Swiss clinic just in case the writers decide to bring him back someday – but actor Kyle Carter was admittedly “a good Catholic boy.” Much better behaved than the bad boy gone good he plays in the second national non-equity tour of In the Heights arriving in Scranton this weekend.
Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the 2008 Tony Award-winning musical is one of the newest shows to play the Electric City this year. Boasting a book by Quiara AlegrÃa Hudes, the story evolves in a small, but diverse Washington Heights community. Carter’s Benny is a street thug who goes to work for Rosario Car and Limousine as a cab driver after being “reformed” by the company’s owner, Kevin Rosario. He’s the best friend of the musical’s central character, Usnavi De La Vega, who runs the corner bodega, or convenience store. During the course of the story, we see him fall in love with the boss’s daughter, Nina, a college student at Stanford University.
The two characters have known each other their entire lives but when Nina returns from college, it’s as if she and Benny are seeing each other for the first time, Carter shared.
“My biggest challenge every show is to convey that message that this is a new relationship. You have no idea where it’s going to go,” he said.
Carter was fortunate enough to stay in with a Dominican family in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood while rehearsing for the tour through a friend of his mother’s.
“When we finally got into tech rehearsals and got to see the set – it looked exactly like what Washington Heights looks like. I was surprised they could convey â¦ that much information on stage. The floor that we dance on looks exactly like a New York City street. It’s kind of gritty and dirty looking, not like when you do a show and the paint the floor brand-new black every time,” he described.
The tour just kicked off on Oct. 18 but the experience has already been life-changing, said Carter.
Always a singer, his high school plans to be an auto designer/engineer were traded for more theatrical plans while studying at University of Notre Dame. He hung out in Indiana for only a year after graduation before relocating to Southern California in May 2010. In the Heights is his first national tour, and the first time the actor has had to perform in more than four shows in a week.
Eating right, getting enough sleep, and staying healthy are as much of a challenge as the actual performing, he explained.
“I averaged about four hours of sleep (a night) in college and rarely sleep more than six hours on a regular night but by the third or fourth day, I realized how important eight hours of sleep is.”
A typical day finds the performers arriving to the theater at about five p.m. They typically return to the hotel at about 11 p.m. for a shower before heading out for something to eat. By 8 a.m., they’re boarding the bus and off to the next town.
Despite the play’s metropolitan setting and contemporary characters, its story about a community coping with change should be as familiar to small town audiences as Fiddler on the Roof. It was the classic musical and its themes of home and tradition that largely inspired In the Heights, Carter said.
“Home is something you can always go back to. Home is always that sanctuary for people.”
The musical’s freshness comes from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics and musical sensibility, he continued.
“It’s a little hip hop, a little salsa.”
Carter’s favorite number in the show is Act One’s “When You’re Home,” which, he said, showcases his clean upper register.
“It’s not even work to sing the song because it’s in the perfect range for my voice.”
The song comes at the end of a long day not long after Nina returns from college. She vents about feeling lost, about not finding the answers for which she hoped at school. Benny’s response reminds her that as long as she comes home, he and other people will be there waiting for her.
“It says that the entire neighborhood is here cheering her along no matter what she decides to do. That no matter what happens you can always come home and you will find your family.”