Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In the Heights

Spectacular. That is really the one word that can summarize In the Heights. The rest of this post will simply be about why the show was so spectacular. In the Heights is about a community in Washington Heights, Manhattan. If you’ve ever been to New York City, you may realize how easily you can get lost. Not directionally lost, but lost in the sense that you are alone, surrounded by a million people. I’ve often told people that New York is the only place in the world that I’ve ever been completely alone, yet surrounded by people at the same time. But as a tourist, it’s different. I imagine that if you live in New York that you can find little communities like the one portrayed in In the Heights. At least I hope there are. Because having a home and a community to be part of is such an important thing and becomes the ultimate theme of the whole show.

In the Heights focuses on a small area of Washington Heights that is mostly Latino. Many of the people are immigrants from South American countries, or first generation American-born. Because it focuses on such a small area, the history and culture of the area is distinct. There are the Rosario’s, who own the local taxi & limo service, who’s daughter Nina is home from her first year at Stanford University. There are Usnavi and his cousin Sonny who run the local bodega. Next to Usnavi’s shop, is the local hair salon, run by Daniela with the help of Carla and Vanessa. Daniela’s shop is closing & moving due to rent increases. Vanessa just wants out of Washington Heights.

The whole community almost seems to be held together by the local patriarch, Abuela Claudia, played beautifully by Elise Santora, who is much younger than her character but captures the love of Abuela so well. She’s taken care of all of the children as they’ve grown up. She cared for Usnavi after his parents passed away. And she’s been a constant source of community of the neighborhood. It’s like she’s the central person that they all gravitate toward. And rightly so. Abuela is such a caring, loving person. She reminded me so much of my own grandmother, always worrying about people and their well-being. Usnavi was played by Joseph Morales. He was fantastic. I thought he did a amazing job with the whole role, but I really loved his actions around Usnavi’s love interest, Vanessa. He was extremely convincing in his nervousness around her. And it was very endearing.

Vanessa was played by the lovely Lexi Lawson (who I saw in the role of Mimi in Rent on tour a few years ago). Vanessa reminded me so much of myself in her desire to just get out of where she’s at. She wants out of Washington Heights. She wants a better job. She wants more than what she’s got.

The set itself is so amazing. From the third row where I sat, I felt like I was actually in Washington Heights. And the lighting, especially during the number “Blackout” (a great number to end the first act) was fantastic. In watching this show, you spend three days with these people, in their community. And you leave feeling like you are friends with them. Like you could walk down the street and see them, and stop to have a conversation. I walked out of that show feeling invested in the characters, and the show.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who began writing this show when he was a sophomore in college, managed to create a beautiful, touching piece of theatre. If he never did anything else in his life, he would have written one of the most amazing pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see it on Broadway. I’m kicking myself for it now, but am eternally grateful to the tour cast for bringing the show to Nashville. On a side note, I want to specifically thank this cast for being so welcoming. Joseph Morales and Lexi Lawson both tweet. And both have tweeted me on several occasions when I tweeted questions. Including Joseph, who I tweeted at intermission and he tweeted back within a couple of minutes. That means a lot to fans. I don’t know if they realize how much. I won’t get into it all, but I will say that BroadwayGirlNYC wrote a fantastic post at Broadway World that covers it pretty well. I don’t know if they’ll read this, but I wanted to thank them for responding to their fans on Twitter.

Also, April Ortiz, who played the role of Daniela was totally awesome at the stage door. She was one of the last people out and stood around to talk with us. More than just the typical signing autographs and moving on. I was probably the oldest person at that stage door and it meant a lot to me. But the younger teens who were there… I’m sure that’s an experience they will never forget. Thank you for shaping their memories of the theater. And for shaping mine.

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