Thursday, February 28, 2008

In The Heights (Richard Rodgers Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: it's really, really good. It's the first musical I've seen in a long time that I can honestly say has something for everyone. It's original and provocative without being whiney, and the music, choreography and talent are all top-notch.

In The Heights has so much heart that I just want to give Lin-Manuel Miranda a hug. Miranda wrote the book and lyrics, conceived the idea and stars in the show. It's safe to assume his work is at least somewhat autobiographical. The "Heights" refers to Washington Heights, and the show gives you an inside look at life in the barrio. Appropriately, much of the music and choreography are hip-hop influenced.

Although In The Heights is innovative in style and theme, it respectfully maintains a more traditional musical theatre structure. Usnavi (Miranda) serves as the narrator and invites the audience into his neighborhood to meet his people. The musical theatre conventions and conflicts are all in place: it's sort of a coming of age story in a poor neighborhood where everyone is trying to get up and/or out. Meanwhile the ingénue falls in love with the wrong boy and everyone struggles to makes ends meet and do right for their family. Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes (she wrote the book) tell a linear story about realistic people in a place that really exists.

The great thing about In The Heights is that the story is about 2008 and it's told in a style that is appropriate for 2008. In The Heights uses the music and choreography to help define place and time, and in doing so, it takes musical theatre to a ground-breaking place. Hip-hop works in musical theatre.

This show is original, and I can't explain how refreshing that is. It actually has something new to say. So much of what's on Broadway was taken from movies and books and plugged into the Broadway machine. In The Heights is original, it's amazingly well done, and I hope it gets the respect it deserves.

In The Heights comes to Broadway from an extended run off-Broadway last year. If you saw it off-Broadway, here's what you need to know: not that much has changed, but it's a lot less gritty than it used to be. The Broadway version offers a beefier orchestra, flashier lighting, and a set that looks like a Hollywood interpretation of Washington Heights. They've added a couple of new songs and changed a couple of plot details to help explain the story, but it's essentially the same as before. It plays well in a big Broadway house and Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography looks even hotter on a larger stage. See it again, it's interesting to compare.

(In The Heights is in previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th Street, and opens March 9. Tickets are available at the box office and at $26.50 ticket lottery available, more info to come. for more info.)


Divaphile said...

It's destined to win Best Musical at the Tonys, but, golly, did it have to seem like they were trying so hard? When every song is a showstopper, this audience member starts to feel bludgeoned after a while. Furthermore, Priscilla Lopez was underused. The actress playing Nina is terrible and irritating. And I haven't seen this much on-stage sweating since Altar Boyz. But it gets points for doing something new on Broadway, even if it is totally sanitized and devoid of any sense of danger or real sexual heat.

Esther said...

I agree with you about "In the Heights." I thought it had great dancing and energy and interesting characters and it's so much fun. And I liked Mandy Gonzalez as Nina. I thought she brought a very youthful sweetness to the part of the girl who made it out of the neighborhood and is so afraid of not living up to everyone's pride in her. I did think the book was a little weak, though. But overall, I really enjoyed it and I'd love to see it again.