Luis A. Miranda, Jr. usually has a song in his head. On Saturday, April 9, as Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company honored the political strategist, philanthropist and lifelong musical theatre buff at their spring gala, he had a very suitable one.
“Yesterday, we went to a high school where the kids put together a show of all Lin-Manuel’s work,” Luis revealed, sitting next to his son, the award-winning songwriter and actor of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” fame. “They did such a good job with “Carnaval” from “In the Heights.” It’s been playing in my head all last night and all of today.”
Dr. Luz Towns-Miranda, Luis’s wife, and daughter Luz Miranda-Crespo were close by. Music, movement and family would be central themes of the evening, which raised funds to help Woolly continue their mission of supporting bold artistry and building a more diverse, inclusive and equitable theatre industry. Those values were on display in subtle and radical ways.
Over cocktails, Black in Space, a multifaceted Black LGBTQ+ ensemble, brought Black joy to the fifth-floor terrace of the stunningly reinvigorated Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. Inside, attendees stood by framed signs made by those experiencing homelessness, part of ICV’s “Invisible Word” exhibit.
“A little kindness goes a long way,” one read.
Responding to pressing needs is a family business for the Mirandas. They have raised money for numerous causes, including disaster relief for Puerto Rico and voter registration. In 2021, Woolly launched the Miranda Family Fellowship, an ambitious workforce development program that pays a full salary to theatremakers from historically excluded communities who are just beginning their careers in the infamously exploitative and historically white theatre industry.
Speaking to the partnership, Luis said, “It represents our values of new voices, of diversity, of expanding the number of people who are in theatre. This is what [Woolly] has represented for decades now. We need places like this in D.C. and elsewhere so that new voices can find a place onstage.”
Later, Luis charged guests to ask themselves “What else can I do?” to make the world a little better than they found it, and then urged everyone to do more. Such a drive is one reason Lin-Manuel quipped that the song “Non-Stop” from “Hamilton” perfectly describes his father.
While unapologetically a fundraiser, the event seized every opportunity to have transgressive fun. Salsa and go-go were on heavy — and loud — rotation. A step troupe from Howard blazed onstage, followed by an irreverent, and lucrative, auction emceed by Vagenesis, D.C.’s black-bearded, statuesque drag queen.
Previewing the new musical “Undesirables” by Hansol Jung and Brian Quijada, performer Rheanna Atendido sang the provocative “Bomb Manifesto” over a backing loop created in the moment.
“Blow it up,” began the chorus.
Every attendee held their breath during José André Montano’s musical medley, which the teenage piano prodigy compiled in Luis’ honor, weaving together songs from “Les Miserable,” “The Sound of Music,” “Hamilton,” “West Side Story” and more.
In addition to honoring Luis, the company announced several noteworthy developments, including a new commissioning program and their upcoming season. Kristen Jackson, the company’s longtime director of connectivity, has been promoted to associate artistic director and will take resident company Spit Dat, the District’s longest-running open mic program, to D.C. correctional facilities.
In her remarks, Woolly’s artistic director Maria Manuela Goyanes reminded everyone that theatre is the place to bring life’s contradictions and work through “woolly” thinking. It’s a place to make better happen.
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