They say word of mouth is the best way to sell a show, and that was really all I had to go on on my recent trip to Broadway. Broadway seems to be littered with revivals at the moment, which seems to be what Broadway does when it is in a recession. They unimaginatively rely on the old classics that they know are safe bets because they will at least get all of the blue hair bus tours. This is why In the Heights is so refreshing. It is not based on a Disney movie and it’s not a boring old revival. It is simply a new story with music which blends latin, hip-hop and r&b – and even some good old fashioned Broadway orchestration here and there to lift things up, or let things simmer when they need to.
The entire show takes place on a corner of Washington Heights on a hot summer day. The actual neighborhood is one of the most Northern sections of Manhattan. Usnavi, played by Javier Munoz, uses hip-hop and rap to narrate most of the story from his storefront where he introduces all of the characters in the amazing opening number “In the Heights”. This was impressive to me for a couple of reasons. The amount of lines he has to perform must be five times longer than any ordinary Broadway performer.
The second reason was that we didn’t tell my mother that there was hip-hop in the show since she recently declared that all “rap is crap”. But I think this show actually opened her mind up to the possibilities of hip-hop. The arrangements successfully blend the different styles, usually with a crescendo of back-up vocals that give these songs the extra power they need when the song enters the final chorus. “96,000”, is the most impressive number to me and led me to download the soundtrack onto my iTunes as soon as I was home. “96, 000” is this show’s “525,600 Minutes”. But where Rent was only really able to imitate Stevie Wonder, “96, 000” is unlike anything I have personally ever heard before.
Stand-outs in the cast include Marcy Harriel who plays Vanessa, a struggling hairdresser and Usnavi’s love interest. Sometimes I develop show crushes and the crush was Vanessa for me in this show. But I was also drinking vodka sodas at the time so I can be easily carried away. But it is important that you know you can drink in this theater (the Richard Rodgers).
Rick Negron, who plays Kevin gets his own moment to shine in a song called “Inutil”, a song where he expresses his frustration at his inability to provide more money for his daughter’s college education. Olga Merediz plays the character of Abuela Claudia, an aging woman who sings that she scrubbed and cleaned the Upper West Side for most of her life. These working class characters are the heroes in this storyline. Each story is heartfelt and lacking the typical ironic comedy that our television and movies drill into our heads everyday. These are simple, archetypal stories weaved together by a strong and original score and an energetic supporting cast of dancers and singers.
To me a successful night of watching a Broadway show should be followed by a meal at someplace like Sardis. This is the most typical place to go, of course. I’m not sure if anyone comes here to read reviews anymore, but my whole family came and sat together under the autographed doodles of celebrities. They sold us on the hamburgers which left me completely satiated and probably two pounds heavier. We all loved In the Heights without exception, and we don’t agree on much and our age range is 11 to 70 plus. So I would recommend taking kids to something like this rather than the latest Disney cartoon turned into a show.