Theater Review: In The Heights @ Pantages Theater; Hollywood, CA
A few weeks ago Nicci was watching TV when a commercial for In The Heights aired. Her initial reaction was, “I want to see that!” which she backed with “Do you want to go with me?” Uh…not really. I thought it looked stupid. People break-dancing and singing about the ghetto? Not my cup of tea. Then again, theater isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Alas, I date an actress, so at some point (I don’t remember when) I must have signed a contract obligating me to see some live theater each year. Okay, so In The Heights it is. I’ll take a play I’ve never heard of long, long before I go see something like A Chorus Line.
As we picked up our tickets and found our seats, Nicci excitedly informed me that the man who wrote the show’s music and lyrics — and starred in the original production — would be performing tonight. Considering I didn’t know anything about the show outside of the 15 second television commercial, it was hard for me to muster a response. And then the curtain lifted, and the show began.
After the opening number, “In The Heights,” I was a bit confused. There were elements of rap, salsa, and I couldn’t really understand what anyone was singing or saying. I wondered if I was going to be lost the entire time trying to catch up to the dialog. Luckily I caught on pretty quickly. And then I realized during the second number (“Breathe”) that some of what the characters were saying was in Spanish. So I didn’t have to think that hard!
I was almost immediately struck by the voices of the cast. The colors of the company’s voices combined to form some really beautiful harmonies. I decided rather quickly that I liked that, and I would listen more for the harmonies than the plot points being delivered via song. After all, the story wasn’t hard to follow. Everyone lived on the same block, they all had money problems, and they each had dreams that they still wanted to realize.
The first act consisted of roughly thirteen numbers. I preferred the ones with the full company — or at the very least duets — more than the solos. The effortless transitions between hip hop and soul and salsa were pretty cool, too. The “rapping,” if you could call it that, was much more melodic than your garden variety rap music. As much attention was paid to melody as rhythm. There were two stand-out songs in the first act, “96,000” and the two-part culminating numbers “The Club” and “Blackout.”
At half-time (that’s what they call it in the theater, right?) Nicci and I discussed our impressions of the play. She was very much liking it. She thought it possessed all the elements of a typical theatrical production, but the style was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. It all seemed very real — except of course for all the dancing. She also appeared happy that I was enjoying myself. Since neither of us had prior knowledge of the plot, we didn’t know how the different plot points would resolve themselves.
Act II has, at most, eight songs. I guess every show has a shorter second act, but this one seemed abnormally quick. I keep mentioning in these reviews that I don’t have a lot of theater experience, but it’s starting to feel like there’s a simple playwriting formula. And in the second act someone always dies. That is what sparks the rest of the action. My problem with this structure is that when the sad stuff happens it always has to be balanced out with comedic relief. I feel like, if you’re going to try to elicit a sincere emotional reaction from an audience by performing something that is depressing, why follow it up immediately with dialog or song intended to make everyone laugh? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? I don’t know, that’s just how I feel. I guess I want everyone else in the theater to feel as depressed for an hour of their lives as I do most of mine.
As I stated earlier, the finale comes pretty quickly. I thought it tied things together nicely. The last number encompassed most of what makes In The Heights such an enjoyable show. You have the full company singing together, plus the main character (Lin-Manuel Miranda) being awesome, a small bit of the crazily choreographed dance, and resolution. At the risk of sounding like a softy, it’s very cool.
For those of you who come to this website expecting me to write the most crass shit imaginable, avert your eyes. I liked In The Heights. Don’t worry, I’m not going to run off and join a theater troupe or anything. I’m not going to take my booze and vinyl money and trade it in for hip hop dance classes. But seriously, I had a good time watching this show and if you live in the LA area you should see this guy Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play. It’s impressive. I’m barely human, with a heart that pumps cold, black blood and I was moved by it all. I think that speaks well for how you might react to it.
Listen to: “96,000”
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