When I suggested to my son that he come home from school for Columbus Day weekend, he said, “That’s a pain. Besides, didn’t you tell me you go to New York all the time?”
I do like to get to New York City at least once a year. When I go, I always take in a show. So I made plans to visit Michael and take him into the city to see a musical.
Most of the shows I hadn’t yet seen in one form or another were by Disney, and it would take serious physical coercion to get me into The Little Mermaid. (Full confession, though: “Part of Your World” is one of my favorite singing songs, unbecoming though it may be on anyone over the age of 20.) But one show I had not seen was the 2008 Tony Award winner, In The Heights, a high-energy musical featuring a Latino cast, set in New York’s Washington Heights.
Because I’ve seen so many musicals, I consider a good show to be one that surprises me. Spring Awakening surprised me with its very unBroadway-like score and unBroadway-like vocalists. (OMG, as the kids who’ve seen the show 20 times say—you’ve got to hear Lauren Pritchard and Tony Award-winner John Gallagher Jr. sing “I Don’t Do Sadness”! See below.) Avenue Q surprised me; puppet sex and a song that features the word Schadenfreude are unexpected, to say the least. Urinetown definitely surprised me (this one had a song called “It’s a Privilege to Pee”) and was a much better lampoon of the musical than the overrated Spamalot. (Save the hundred bucks and see Monty Python and the Holy Grail if you haven’t…or see it again. I know you’re going to disagree with me, but there it is.) The Drowsy Chaperone—the hot ticket a couple of years ago—was unsurprising, with no memorable songs and few memorable moments but for Georgette Engels repeatedly spitting water in someone’s face. The Apple Tree revival, which got such lousy reviews—that did surprised me, because it was the first time I’d seen Kristin Chenoweth. Wow. (Mark Kudisch was a bit of a marvel as well.)
I was hoping to be surprised by In the Heights.
This may be the weirdest thing I ever confess in this blog. The opening number, “In The Heights,” combined rap, Latin-style dancing, traditional Broadway elements, and choreography that featured elements of breakdancing. Imagine: rap. On Broadway.
This clip pales in comparison to the real thing, which I can’t find, but it gives you some idea.
It was quite a long number, long enough for me to ponder the fact that what I was watching was unlike anything I’d seen before. It was such an exciting moment for me as a lover of musicals, I…well, I wept. (Confession again: it is not the first time I have wept watching a perfectly happy musical. Not hardly.) Young people are jumping all over the stage in joyful celebration, and I am in the fourth row of the mezzanine trying to keep my lower lip from quivering so Michael won’t notice what a blubbering fool I am. (“Mother! What is wrong with you?” Why do my children make me feel like the child?)
So In The Heights passed the “surprising” test, at least on one level. The plot lines were trite and familiar, though, and resembled those in a soap opera (another confession: that’s a form with which I am intimately familiar). If the show had a traditional score and choreography, it would have been laughed off Broadway. But it didn’t, and that was an important difference.
I didn’t mind the tired, predictable, and corny plots (it sounds like I did, though, doesn’t it?) and other traditional elements such as blasting ballads and lighting that was paint-by-numbers, because I understood why they were there. A show featuring rap, breakdancing, and a Latino cast would likely not have made it on Broadway without those elements. Many people come to New York City once in their life, and when they see a Broadway show, they want to see a Broadway show. To my mind, In The Heights followed Broadway convention a bit too closely, but this enabled the show to be seen and adored by the masses.
I can put up with a little convention for musical numbers that make me cry.
The show was a loving tribute to the Latino community, with great performances, sets, choreography, vocalists (a peripheral character, the Piragua guy, played by Eliseo Roman, had the sweetest voice—in the clip above he is the man in the apron and flat cap and you do get a small sample), and a very dynamic star in Lin-Manuel Miranda. Whenever he was on stage, I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. He may not have been the strongest dancer in the cast, but he moved like a cat. Very alluring.
You can get a real review of the show anywhere, and I suggest you do, because I’m going someplace totally different now.
Our seats were in the front mezzanine of the Richard Rodgers Theatre; the closest orchestra seats I could have gotten were further back than our mezzanine seats. The cost was the same ($120), so I figured the mezzanine seats would be as good as the ones in the orchestra. But this theatre actually has…stadium seating! It didn’t look as if there was a bad seat in the orchestra. The mezzanine seats were fine, but the floor would have been better.
The most important part of any show is the length of the line for the ladies’ room at intermission. It is my practice to hightail it to the ladies’ as soon as the big number of the first act reaches its climax, telegraphing the act’s end. Otherwise, I’m stuck in a 20-minute toileting line for a 15-minute intermission. But at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, I needn’t have worried. The stalls were plentiful and, though there was a line, it moved quickly. I was no more than 25th in line anyhow, and I got through in less than five minutes. Impressive.
When I came back for the second act, problems were afoot in the left front mezzanine. The kid behind me had a bag of candy or something that he kept crinkling (note to theatregoers: there is no quiet way to unwrap candy). For $120, I will not put up with being taken out of a show by the actions of a 10-year-old. I turned around and gave the father a long look a few times before finally saying, “Please stop that,” which worked.
I don’t know what’s wrong with people. I saw a local production of The Full Monty (a suburban cast is even funnier than a professional one for this show, though I recommend you see it in whatever incarnation you can) in which the woman behind me brought a text book and a flashlight shaped like a pencil, which she was using so she could read her book in the dark. Because, you know, that wouldn’t be a distraction to anyone around her, would it? You read correctly: she was reading with a flashlight…in the fifth row, no less. “You need to put that away,” I said to her; that was hardly the first time I’d uttered those words in a theater.
(Don’t get me started on people who text during movies.)
Almost as bad, though, at the Richard Rodgers, was the woman in front of me. When she came in at the beginning, she had the look of a perfume-wearer. She was in her late 50s or early 60s, and she wore clothes that were way too young for her—form-fitting slacks with layered T-shirts. Her long shag was overly processed, framing her aged face with a dried-out tangle of brown. But she smelled only faintly of perfume in the first act, though strongly of mothballs, which wafted up to me every time she shifted.
During the intermission, she must have freshened up her noxious scent. She came back smelling strongly of baby powder mixed with rubbing alcohol. I am famous the world over for my sense of smell (or I am as of this moment, I suppose) and I spent the second act with my hand over my nose and mouth, shielding my eyes as well from the effects of the fumes.
Let’s summarize a few theater rules:
- Don’t use a flashlight of any kind while sitting in the audience. Flashlights are for ushers only.
- Don’t text; cell phones off. All the way off. Yes, off.
- No to perfume; yes to deodorant; no to perfumed deodorant.
- No unwrapping of anything once the lights go down.
- Please don’t sit children in $120 seats if you can’t trust them not to disturb the other people sitting in $120 seats.
- There’s a line of desperate women waiting; don’t dawdle on the toilet.
And that’s what I have to say about In The Heights.