The gap between the old New York of European immigrants and the new city wrought by Latino, Asian and Afro-Caribbean newcomers can sometimes seem vast, particularly in Northern Manhattan. There, I once astonished a Dominican man by telling him that Incarnation Church was once the centerpiece of a largely Irish parish. I've also heard German Jews complain that their story isn't part of the superb musical In the Heights. But at Symphony Space over the weekend, these two worlds came together beautifully, thanks to Sheldon Harnick and Lin-Manuel Miranda,
Harnick was the lyricist for the great Fiddler on the Roof, among other productions, and Miranda gave us the music, lyrics and original concept for In the Heights. They appeared together for an onstage conversation at Wall to Wall Broadway, a splendid day of performances , interviews and discussions held at Symphony Space. Harnick came onstage first, and to the delight of the audience, rapped a tribute Miranda. (Pretty good for a guy born in 1924.)
Miranda then appeared and talked about how much he was influenced by Fiddler on the Roof. When creative disputes arose when he was staging In the Heights, he explained, Fiddler was his trump card: the structures and sequencing of the show were so good that he applied the thinking behind them in his own work. He topped this by returning Harnick's favor with a rapped version of "Tradition."
Fiddler's "Tradition" and the "In the Heights," the opening number of the musical, are both fantastic songs. But it was especially nice to see how much their creators learned from each other and admired each other. There's a lesson in that for everyone who cares about the old New York, the new New York, and what they have to offer each other.