The Tony-winning hit In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda is letting loose its lightning-fast energy as part of Broadway Across America at the Hobby Center (though April 18). Sabrina Sloan plays Vanessa, the hairdresser losing her village and the love interest for Usnavi, the troubadour rapper of the show, originally played on Broadway by Miranda.
Sloan, a Northwestern grad, made her Broadway debut in the original cast of Hairspray. Her career has brought her all over the country touring with Rent, Hairspray and other shows. Television credits include Boston Legal, Legally Mad, and Season 6 of the Fox hit American Idol, where she made it to the Top 24. A triple threat who can salsa, Sloan brings us into the nonstop energy of the show and her career.
CM: In the Heights has a hyper caffeinated pace. It just starts and runs like the Energizer Bunny. The engine of the show has a driving rap rhythm. It can't be easy. How ever did you manage?
SS: It was a challenge for certain in that it requires all three skills, singing, acting and dancing, all the time. The rehearsal process was intense. I had to go Salsa 101 training with Luis Salgado. It's a tricky dance and took me a while to get used to it. Then to power through the music was a second challenge. From day one to day five was huge. I had to learn a lot very quickly, but once I had it down, it started to flow.
CM: The story reminded me of the little neighborhood that I grew up , where not only was everyone from Italy, but from the same town in Italy. Of course, it's gone now. The character you play, Vanessa, witnesses the gentrification of her beloved block. She's also dealing with a dysfunctional mother, falling in love with the main man, all while dancing the salsa. How do you relate, especially since you grew up in Orange County, California, about as far from Washington Heights as possible.
SS: Just about everyone sees their family story in the show. I did not have a desperate housewives of Orange County childhood. My parents were divorced and so I grew up with single mother, so there's much about Vanessa's story that rings true for me. She's on her own and longs for the kind of life that Nina has, whose parents sell their business to put her through college.
CM: I was the one screaming "don't do it" to those nutty parents. Maybe you heard me, but honestly, there was a lot of commenting, laughing, talking back in the audience. We were a noisy bunch. What do you think of Houston audiences?
SS: We love you! The rowdier the better. We love performing in places with Latino populations. We just performed in Naples, Florida, and they were painfully quiet. We were thrilled with the audience on opening night. As a performer you want to know that everyone is with you. There's never a time when people aren't standing at the end.
CM: How did making the Top 24 on Season 6 of American Idol shape your career?
SS: It absolutely made a big difference. I still have fans from the show. That's the amazing thing about American Idol, there are people who watch it every season, fanatics. People still stop me on the street and ask me when my album is coming out. So it definitely gave me a bigger fan base. Being on the show can be frustrating at times. There are a lot of elements out of your control, from which songs you sing, to what parts of your story get told.
People were always telling me to audition. If I had not, I always would have wondered. But there are incredible singers who never make it past the first round. It's not just about talent. Overall, I'm glad I did it.
CM: Talk a bit about how you traveled from Orange County to Broadway?
SS: I trained at Northwestern, which was a great education. I got to do so much there in terms of performing and creating my own projects. I moved to New York a week and a half after September 11th. Being in New York was another education all together. The atmosphere then was about everyone pulling together. I got swept away with being there and making my dreams come true in New York.