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Living his character

UCI voice major worked up courage to get part in New York play. Now, cast will perform it here in Orange County.

July 22, 2010|By Candice Baker
  • David Baida, the Piragüero in "In the Heights," stands just right of center with his piragua stand.
David Baida, the Piragüero in "In the Heights,"… (Joan Marcus )

COSTA MESA — David Baida's heard it hundreds of times by now: "You were born to play that part."

But it nearly took a miracle for the actor to audition for the role.

After a run at Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre, Baida and the rest of the touring cast of the hugely successful Broadway musical "In the Heights" will debut at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Aug. 3.

Set in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood, "In the Heights" brings three days in the life of its Dominican and Puerto Rican community to colorful, euphoric existence.

Baida's character is a scene-stealing, willfully optimistic piragüero (Puerto Rican shaved ice vendor) who, together with his push cart, constantly thwarts the ingresses of the rival Mr. Softee truck. For Baida, stepping onto the eerily realistic show set is like walking out his own front door.

"I myself live in Washington Heights," Baida said. "I lived there for a couple of years before I got this part. I see piraguas all the time and eat them, too. The Piragua Guy sort of represents the everyday man who's got his job and is struggling to make a living, and you see his sort of journey over those three days. Finally, he gets to have his moment in the sun."

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The Piragua Guy is given a catchy tune to sing near the end of Act I that, like much of the show, is partially sung in Spanish.

"It's hotter than the islands are tonight, and Mr. Softee's trying to shut me down," he sings. "But I keep scraping by the fading light; mi pana, this is my town."

"So many times, people have come up to me to say, 'I can't get your song out of my head,'" Baida said. "As we've gone throughout the United States, I never knew how the show would play somewhere like Appleton, Wis. — we really did perform there."

People do seem to identify with his character, he said.

"They say, 'I really appreciate the struggles that you went through,'" Baida said. "During the bows, they play my song. It's really great. It's not a huge part, but you make it memorable. You do what you can with what you've got."

Although Baida relishes his role now, as well as the opportunity to travel the world, it almost required an act of God in order to see "In the Heights" onstage — let alone audition for it. Like some of the show's characters, he had left his aspirations by the wayside.

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