The other night the Whingers were in a bar when they bumped into a theatre critic from the New York Times (Not Ben Brantley. Another one).
Andrew was complaining about not being able to make out the lyrics at Green Day’s American Idiot – The Musical! and “real critic” Charles Isherwood (for it was he) chastised Andrew for not doing his “homework” beforehand.
Well, you can imagine how that went down.
But it turned out that that Mister Swishywood (as we caught on first hearing) almost had a point. Of sorts.
For when taking their seats at In(to) The Heights the other night the Whingers realised they had no idea in which Heights they were supposed to be. Where were these Dominican/Puerto Rican/Cuban (we think, judging by the flags) people living? Brooklyn? Queens? The Bronx?
Our subsequent homework (we asked someone in a bar) revealed that it was set in Washington Heights which is towards the top of Manhattan (hence the “Broadway Baby” line: “from Battery Park to Washington Heights”).
Into The Heights (we have tried to call it In The Heights but can’t get used to it; it just seems wrong) is a big-hearted musical set in a Hispanic community in Washington Heights at 181st Street. There’s a mini-cab firm, a grocery store, a unisex hair salon and a slushy seller.
To be honest, we weren’t too confident we had grasped the story. [SPOILERS] An old woman won a lottery, died in a power cut and the man who was going to move out of the area changed his mind when his cousin paid a graffiti artist to paint a picture of the old woman on the shutters of his shop. Some of it was in Spanish.
We did TRY and do yet more homework when we got access to a computer but the “Story” page of the show’s website says:
In the Heights tells the universal story of a vibrant community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights – a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind.
So there you go.
Anyway, it opens with the main character (High School – The Musical! star Corbin Bleu) rapping. That’s right. As in rapping. As in rap music. Suddenly the Whingers felt even older than usual and their cold hearts sinking.
And yet, and yet… the words turned out to be rather sweet and funny (Andrew particularly liked the rhyming of “test you later” with “escalator”) and while an entire rapping musical would doubtless have quickly become very trying, Into The Heights used the form sparingly among a mainly Latin American score (mambo, salsa, that sort of affair).
The main problem for the ill-prepared Bellyachers was the sound. We couldn’t hear all the lyrics. This was a first for us on The Broadway as the sound design in all our previous shows had, up until now, been excellent, so we lost the plot in more ways than usual.
But what we could grasp was that this show has tremendous warmth and excellent performances from the leads and the supporting roles. We particularly enjoyed the Piragua Guy (Eliseo Roman), Olga Merediz’s Abuela Claudia, Andrea Burns’ sassy Daniela who gets an extra nod for sporting the best flick-ups we’ve seen on a Broadway stage. Bleu had impressive stage presence and natural charm.
The lighting (Howell Binkley) is terrific and includes a pyrotechnic display that Too Close to the Sun‘s budget could only dream of. The fixed set (Anna Louizos) is particularly impressive and realistic, a fact that we can boast of knowing because we took Mister Isherwood’s advice and did our homework (too late) by going into the heights ourselves the next day and visiting the 181 St subway station depicted on stage.
It all zips along pleasingly so top marks to the absurdly youthful Thomas Kail for his direction. Don’t worry our name-dropping will cease soon when we get home and no one will want to know us again but we were introduced to Kail the other evening and he looks about 18 (though is in his early thirties).
An on-stage auction in aid of Broadway Cares raised $700 for Bleu’s vest. Phil couldn’t quite stretch to that even for Andrew’s birthday which he ended up celebrating in New York due to the volcanic eruption. Andrew is now obsessed with a vacuum cleaner that can pick up marbles he’s seen on a TV infomercial. Since Andrew is always losing his that solves Phil’s birthday present dilemma.
The orchestra stalls of the Richard Rodgers theatre have the most generous rake to them. Why aren’t all theatres built this way?
Here is our Into The Heights photo-essay.