Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In The Heights (The SOB Review)

In The Heights (The SOB Review) - Richard Rodgers Theatre

**1/2 (out of ****)


First up, I'm a very sentimental man. In fact, I'm soft and gooey to the core. Some would go so far as to say I'm the epitome of a sentimental fool.

So after all that's been said about Lin-Manuel Miranda's exuberant new tuner In The Heights, I was prepared to be smitten from the get-go. I left thinking it was very likable, but a feeling of "Is that it?" persisted.

While Miranda & Co. deserve enormous credit for wearing their ginormous hearts on their sleeves, pants legs and virtually everything else in sight including via an impressive 11 o'clock graffiti-cum-work-of-art, I discovered even I'm capable of finding a mushy musical just a tad too treacly.

Don't get me wrong.

I was thrilled by Miranda's incredible backstory in which he began writing this fable while still in college. I admire his profile in perseverance as he shepherded the show, first through a successful Off-Broadway run and now on Broadway. And most of all, I am truly ecstatic that there is a profoundly positive depiction of New York's Latino life beyond the stereotypes that, quite incredibly and shamefully, a few too many critics thought was missing.

But -- and I'm sorry to say it's a big but -- despite the promise of something new, including Miranda's hotter than salsa hip-hop funk, In The Heights never quite soars, even with the ebullient energy infused through Andy Blankenbuehler's joyous choreography (making him the odds-on favorite come Tony time). Instead, it's a hackneyed pastiche of storytelling we've seen too many times before. In other words, Quiara Alegría Hudes' book dwells on the same old, same old technique.

With one notable exception, every major character -- and there are too many -- has his or her own moment in the spotlight, almost as if to make up for lost time and the depressing dearth of stage vehicles for the Hispanic community. If Lin-Manuel Miranda's hilariously named Usnavi serves as the heart of In The Heights, then Sonny, portrayed by the human sparkplug known as Robin De Jesús, is the show's very soul. So exceptional was his engaging performance, I actually felt cheated when De Jesús was denied his turn in the solo spotlight.

But ultimately, this is strictly quibbling given the absolute crowd-pleaser that is In The Heights. Thanks to its infectious beat, some knock-out numbers like the nearly showstopping "The Club/Fireworks," and impeccable cast -- including Mandy Gonzalez as struggling student Nina, Olga Merediz as the neighborhood's honorary matriarch Abuela Claudia, Andréa Burns as the saucy Daniela, and the welcome Broadway return for Priscilla Lopez as Nina's mother Camila -- Miranda serves up an impressive, earnest freshman effort.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Is The F-Word Really Family Friendly? (April 11, 2008)
Early Tony Handicapping (March 25, 2008)
Glory Days Yet To Come This Broadway Season? (March 19, 2008)
Heights Opens: Did Critics Offer High Marks? (March 10, 2008)
A Chorus Line: From Priscilla To Mario Lopez (March 5, 2008)
Off-Broadway Hit Seeks Greater White Way Heights (May 23, 2007)

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6 Comments:

At 16 April, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Hey Steve,
I liked "In the Heights" a little more than you did. I agree with a lot of what you said. The plot is hackneyed and there's way too much going on. I think part of it is, they may have wanted to show the diversity of this Latino neighborhood and just got a little carried away.

And some parts are a little unbelievable - like the world's most talented and quickest graffiti artist. But like I said in my review, I've dubbed it my guilty pleasure. And as charming as Lin-Manuel Miranda was, it's really Nina's story, and I just found Mandy Gonzalez so appealing. I hope she gets a Tony nod. Perfect description of Robin DeJesus, btw, he was a human sparkplug!

I loved Miranda's dancing and rapping and he was very sweet, but I wasn't as blown away by his performance as I was by Daniel Breaker's the previous evening in "Passing Strange."

I also loved the choreography and the energy and the set of "In the Heights." And as corny as this sounds, I think it's a positive message about what immigrants bring to this country. It's a show I would definitely go see again.

One thing I've thought about in terms of the plot, maybe it would have been stronger if Nina had been deciding whether to go away to college or stay closer to home. then the show could have concentrated more on the question of leaving the neighborhood but still maintaining your cultural identity. It would have put a different spin on her love interest. But I guess that'll have to wait until I write my own musical!

Also, I think it's great that we have two shows this year - "Passing Strange" and "In the Heights" - where African-American and Latino characters are telling their own stories.

And Steve, you are soft and gooey, in a good way! But you're nobody's fool!

 
At 16 April, 2008, Blogger Vance said...

I haven't seen it yet but I'm looking forward to it, but I've been listening to the demo music that I could find and I can't believe they apparently cut out my favorite song (that was in the Off-Broadway run apparnetly) "Hear me out". (True?)

Still, I kinda tear up listening to the finale song and I dont EVEN KNOW WHAT ITS ABOUT YET!

(Still, I've heard the problems about the show too).

 
At 16 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Esther. And it's completely fine to have different points of view on this show. I realize I'm in the minority in not loving it, but I admire it.

 
At 16 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Vance,

The Off-Broadway mounting had the following song list:

• Act I
• In the Heights
• Breathe
• Benny's Dispatch
• It Won't Be Long Now
• Plan B
• Inutil(useless)
• No Me Diga
• 96,000
• Paciencia Y Fe
• When You're Home
• Piragua
• Siempre (Always)
• The Club/Fireworks
Act II
• Sunrise
• Hundreds of Stories
• Carnaval del Barrio
• Atencion
• Alabanza
• Everything I Know I Know
• Hear Me Out
• Goodbye
• Finale

The Broadway version's song list is as follows:
Act 1
• In the Heights
• Breathe
• Benny's Dispatch
• It Won't Be Long Now
• Inutil
• No Me Diga
• 96,000
• Paciencia y Fe (Patience and Faith)
• When You're Home
• Piragua
• Siempre (Always)
• The Club/Fireworks
Act 2
• Sunrise
• Hundreds of Stories
• Enough
• Carnaval del Barrio
• Atencion
• Alabanza
• Everything I Know
• No Me Diga (Reprise)
• Champagne
• When the Sun Goes Down
• Finale

 
At 16 April, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Hey, talking about it with friends afterward is part of what makes going to the theatre fun! And a lot of times other people's opinions bring up points I hadn't thought about!

 
At 16 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Ditto and right backatcha.

 

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