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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

light and sweet

As an early, early, early birthday present Colleen W. took me to see In The Heights.  ITH is the brain child of Lin-Manuel Miranda,which means I should not have doubted at all that I would love it. But still, I was nervous.

See, Collen loves the show so much that I was afraid it wouldn't live up to her praise and then  I'd be stuck looking for nice things to say about it. "Good... costumes..." I imagined I'd say before pretending to fall asleep for the 4 hour drive home.

But after seeing the show live, I simply can't get it out of my mind. It's been on my ipod nonstop, a dedicated playlist, so I thought I ought to nod to it on the blog a bit. The show is fresh, fun, moving and really catchy.

The multi-level set impressed me
with its depth and detail
Plot wise, the show has just enough principal characters to keep me actively thinking, but not so many that I wasn't invested in the arch of each person's story. Additionally, there are always other characters on stage. Neighbors in windows, strangers walking across the street, other principal characters carrying out their own plot points in street lamp lit pantomime. Watching it, I felt like the constant presence of people on the stage gave the show its own kind of life. It's like the show itself is beating and breathing.

The music, as one would expect from Miranda and Lacamoire is spectacular. Steve Gilbane took the words out of my mouth when he wrote to me that "it pulled off a convincing broadway-latin-rap mix, which I would have thought was impossible." Huge sweeping broadway numbers, heartbreaking "I Wish," and "I Am" songs, and fabulously sexy latin beats. The various musical hooks and themes weave together in sometimes surprising ways to create delightful layering of ideas and emotions (and yes, cultures).

The deliberate repetition of phrases and words throughout the show has a similar effect. Although some of the lyrics stood out as a bit heavy handed ("we're powerLESS, we are POWERless," sing the oppressed residents of Washington Heights when the electricity goes out) all can be forgiven in the far more frequent moments of word play brilliance.  A lot of it (and here I'm thinking mainly of the hip hop) comes across as almost improvised. The irregular syntax of the rapping creates a genuine rap battle feel to certain pieces. The dancing follows the dynamic sound, natch, and there's just as much popping and locking as there is salsa, as there is modern movement.

Plus, I'm a sucker for sad songs, "belters", and well-placed foreign phrases with flare. Abeula Claudia killed me every time she took the focus, and sometimes even when she didn't.

As a writer I appreciate that the story doesn't wrap up like a fairy tale. Or maybe I just appreciate that as a person.

As we were leaving, the conductor stood up to stretch and Colleen grabbed my arm. "That's Alex Lacamoire" she hissed. As it turns out, we got to hear the show as orchestrated by the Musical Director himself The music conducted just as it is intended to be played!*  

Colleen with Christopher Jackson
Then, outside the stage door Colleen and I got to met some of the cast. I got Courtney Reed's autograph. She usually plays Carla, but I got to see her as Vanessa. Colleen got her photo taken with Christopher Jackson.

Meanwhile, my awareness of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the work he's doing just sky rocketed.
This is him performing "Hamilton Mixtape" with Alex Lacamoire at the White House:

*Incidentally, (and here a shameless plug) the audiences at Gorefest get the very same privilege!!

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