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Sunday, November 02, 2008


I am almost embarrassed to say that I am behind. Every year, I am very well aware of the new musicals that hit the Great White Way...and yet, I don't really catch onto any of them until the following season. Why, I'm not sure. I like to blame the fact that I'm on the left coast but that's really not a good excuse because I know which shows are buzz-worthy and critically acclaimed and starring Broadway's most talented...and yet, for some reason it takes an entire season before I invest myself in them. Its not like I am reading about these shows or performers before I decide to take the leap. Quite the contrary! Usually I am actually an entire season behind to begin with and am spending my time listening, digesting, understanding, and...geez, it sounds like I actually study these shows (ok, I suppose I sorta do). With that said, last week I finally bought and caught onto the wonder that is In The Heights.

I had heard of In The Heights, I watched the cast perform on the 2008 Tony Awards, and until then, I was unsure of the idea of the story having never seen the show or heard the music. All I knew is that on the telecast, Lin-Manuel Miranda was rapping. That's different.
"Hmm, that's interesting," I thought. "I wonder how that works. It probably works, but...rapping on Broadway? Hmm..."
Of course it "works", after all, In The Heights won several Tonys in 2008: best musical, best original score (Lin-Manuel Miranda), best choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler). Accolades aside, what I've appreciated about In The Heights is that it is a perfect combination of what Broadway was with what it has become. The music is fantastic and takes you into the world of Puerto Ricans living in Washington Heights -- it makes you want to get up and dance, makes you feel hopeful and for me, it felt so honest. This is one of those shows that you don't have to see, to know that it is going to be great.

I just re-watched the cast's performance on the Tony Awards of the songs In the Heights and 96,000 and they were amazing! The music and the choreography were incredible! One of the best things about In The Heights is that its not what most people envision a musical to be. Its fresh, vibrant, doesn't have "cheezy" music from your grandparents generation, it isn't a jukebox musical or based on a movie. All of it is original -- the concept, the book and music and even the style of music (for a Broadway stage) because In The Heights is a musical with freestyle rap and salsa dancing...with a theatrical influence and was the brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda during his college years at Wesleyan University.

Reading stories about people's inspiration completely fascinates me and Lin-Manuel Miranda's journey of going from a college production to off-Broadway to becoming a Tony Award winning musical is no different. In The Heights is Lin-Manuel Miranda's memory of growing up in Manhattan's Washington Heights on the Upper West Side. Somehow, he captured the essence of his neighborhood, from the music and sounds of the area, the people and then freezing these personal and unique moments as a musical on stage.

In The Heights has me thinking about musical theater as an art form and why artists choose to tell their story as a musical versus a film, tv show, novel or poetry. What makes one more effective a genre than another? I suppose in part some of the same reasons that musical move and inspire me while film doesn't really at all...whatsoever. There is something I imagine about the uniqueness of In The Heights that makes it special and come alive specifically as a musical. I wouldn't actually know having never seen it, but having listened to it (a lot) since I bought it...there's definitely something special about it. How could we get a real sense of the neighborhood without the music or the vitality of these actors? Beyond all of that though, what could be better than watching and listening to Lin-Manuel Miranda performing onstage? He certainly is dynamic and talent is something he will never be short of, I am sure of that!


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