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Saturday, June 26, 2010


Being so far away from New York, I find it incredibly gratifying when fantastic shows announce that they are touring and finally come into town. What is even better is when original cast members reprise their roles on tour and particularly when they make their way into LA. Ahh, a perk of living in the 2nd biggest city in the country! There are (naturally) business reasons why these actors choose to reprise their roles and I'm sure glad I get to reap these benefits! Recently, I had the good fortune of witnessing the reunited original cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee when all nine actors sat for the LA run of the show at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in 2007. It was an awesome, awesome theatre-going experience and I was thrilled that they came together for our little town. However, when it was announced that Lin-Manuel Miranda was joining the In the Heights tour during its LA run, I was elated! Ever since I discovered this show, I have been a fan of both it and its creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

It was a great sight to see the diversity in age and ethnicity of audience members at LA's Pantages Theatre. Lately, the shows I've been attending consist of an older crowd and seems to lack diversity. Initially I thought that maybe In the Heights was a more modern show which attributed to the mix of audience members. However, I don't even think there was as much diversity in the audience at another modern musical - Spring Awakening at the Ahmanson a few years ago (as well as when I saw it on Broadway). Seeing such a diverse mix of ages and ethnicities at In the Heights reminded me that this was a show that was speaking to a wide range of people because of its story and its message. It was lovely to see the excitement from families and groups of friends or couples as they gawked and took pictures in front of the theatre. I saw a small group of high school students giggling, pointing (and swooning?) at photos of Miranda in the souvenir program and just loved the sight of it!

Sometimes, the anticipation of seeing a show outweighs what the reality of it is for me. Regarding In the Heights, I certainly was not disappointed. What a fantastic show! In the age of revivals and jukebox musicals (the latter of which I am not a fan), it is rare to find a quality original new musical and when I do, I hold tight. When these shows are really good, I have discovered that I really do embrace the differences that these new works have over the classics. While times change, styles change and music changes, stories do not. If told correctly, these stories can be retold in new, unique ways that have the opportunity to open a new generation or new groups of people to musical theatre. The story of In the Heights is not new; it is about family, love, self-discovery, life and finding your way home. Yet the stories are told using rap and hip hop hand-in-hand with ballads and soliloquies. In the Heights blends the old with the new infusing it with incredible energy that excitement. I have been known to be critical in my reviews of shows - maybe unnecessarily critical at times - but my criticism for In the Heights is (as far as I can tell) nonexistent.

When it comes to touring casts of shows, I have seen one too many shows fail because the casts as a whole is lacking. The creative team of In the Heights really cast some first-rate performers in this show. Maybe these actors were more encouraged or fueled by the energy from its creator and original Usnavi (Miranda), but I think its because they were really just that good. As I stated earlier, I was ecstatic when I learned that Miranda would be reprising his role of Usnavi for the L.A. run. He did not disappoint one bit and I just loved seeing him live, hearing him perform the character that he created and it was an amazing night. Miranda was energetic, completely in the moment, on point in his rhymes, his dancing and his overall performance. I found myself bopping in my seat to the music, sniffling and holding back tears during the more emotional scenes and appreciating what kind of work went into the show.

I think it is safe to say that I will try to catch one more performance of the show before it leaves at the end of July. I am looking forward to seeing what Miranda and Kenny Ortega do to In the Heights when it makes the leap onto the big screen. With Miranda starring in it and having creative control over the show, I can only imagine what he will bring to the newest version of In the Heights. What started out as a small three-day production at Wesleyan University has become taken off into something so fantastic! I am proud to support the show, its creator and really hope that others will feel the same. In the Heights is not your grandparents' musical, it is young, fresh, hip and hopefully will change the way you feel about musical theatre while preserving the traditions of the genre in its golden age.

For the record, if you want to love Lin-Manuel Miranda even more, revisit this post from Christmas 2008. Dreams come true and LMM & cast certainly made sure of that.


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