When Lin-Manuel Miranda caught John Leguizamo’s 1992 one-man play Spic-o-Rama on tape as a teen, he witnessed a Latino actor rewrite the rules of theater for the first time in his life.
“I remember popping in the cassette and seeing John Leguizamo leap across the stage in orange baggy jeans and braces, playing the dorky, nine-year-old Miggy. Then he was Crazy Willie, a Persian Gulf War vet with serious relationship issues. Then Raffi, a flamboyant would-be Elizabethan actor in Jackson Heights,” the Hamilton creator wrote in Vanity Fair. “It slowly dawned on me that Leguizamo was playing every member of his hilarious, dysfunctional family, on his own electric terms.”
The Oscar nominee later recalled how watching Leguizamo color outside of traditional lines, all while honoring Latino culture, throughout his career set the foundation for his own trek to the stage. “As an erstwhile theater kid whose knowledge of it was strictly confined to traditional musicals such as Oklahoma! and Fiddler on the Roof, witnessing a Latino actor write and star in his own show, reveling in the specificities of our culture with brilliant, razor-sharp wit and a uniquely hip-hop energy, exploded my every notion of what theater could be,” he continued.
As Leguizamo pays tribute to unsung Latino heroes in his latest Off-Broadway show Latin History for Morons, Miranda reckons that the Colombian maestro stands among those deserving of respect. “For those of us who discovered, through his work, a link between the theater and our own specific stories, Leguizamo is the young, gifted, and Latino hero we’d been waiting for.”