Roberto Gonzales’ 2016 book Lives in Limbo has already had a deep impact and a rich afterlife. It has changed the conversation about the lived experiences of undocumented immigrants and of immigrant families in the United States — revealing depths of perseverance and courage, but also heartbreaking barriers that block the progress of young people just as they are becoming adults.
The book, and Gonzales’ ongoing study of the population he has followed for more than a decade, has yielded compelling evidence of the positive impact of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program on the lives of undocumented young people. It has also led to the creation of a Harvard-wide center on immigration studies, launched in 2019 to promote interdisciplinary scholarship, original research, and intellectual exchange in immigration policy and about immigrant communities.
Now, the book has an unexpected and exciting new legacy — and one that will bring it to an entirely new audience. Lives in Limbo is being adapted as a musical production that will dramatize its stories of coming of age undocumented in America, with hopes of a Broadway premier in the not-distant future.
And the first song from the in-progress adaptation will have its premier this week, during an all-star, livestreamed celebration of the contributions that Latinx artists have made to the Broadway stage. The celebration, hosted and coproduced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is called ¡VIVA Broadway! Hear Our Voices, and it will air on Playbill.com on Thursday, October 1, at 8 p.m. ET.
All of this was set in motion when Peggy Koenig, a Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative 2018 fellow, attended a talk that Gonzales gave on campus. After several conversations, Koenig optioned the book from Gonzales. In her other life, Koenig is a co-chief executive officer and managing partner of ABRY Partners, a private equity firm with a focus on investments in media, communications information, and business services. She is also a member of the advisory board of the Carr Center on Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Koenig has already lined up a director for the in-development Lives in Limbo production: Sergio Truijllo, an Olivier Award- and Tony Award-winning director and choreographer for such productions as Jersey Boys and Ain’t Too Proud. It was Trujillo who connected with Miranda (of Hamilton and In the Heights mega-fame) to develop the Playbill.com celebration.
The ¡VIVA Broadway! Hear Our Voices concert special will feature a remarkable lineup of award-winning stage and screen Latinx performers, including Miranda himself, along with Lucie Arnaz, Gloria Estefan, John Leguizamo, Luis Miranda, Chita Rivera, and Thalía.
The featured song from Lives in Limbo is called “Everyday,” which was inspired by and adapted from one of the participants in the book, identified as Esperanza. The song was written by composer Julio Copello and lyricist Michelle Rodriguez. The song will be introduced by Quiara Hudes, who wrote In the Heights, and performed by Mandy Gonzales (In the Heights) and Ariana DeBose (Summer: The Donna Summer Musical).
“Lives in Limbo is a work that is very dear to me,” says Gonzales. “I spent 12 years on it, and I owe a great deal to my participants, who shared so much of their time with me and who trusted me with their stories. Seeing this book transformed into a musical is very exciting, especially as I think of the platform and the potential to reach a wider audience. The sky's the limit, and I can't wait until Thursday!"