My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long and brimming with spoilers)

Yankeefan007
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IN THE HEIGHTS has the potential to become the big hit of the season. It's leagues better than the three other musicals which have opened this season, Young Frankenstein, Little Mermaid, and Xanadu. The score is strong, the choreography is incredible, and the cast makes a good showing.

Unfortunately, the script is so mind-bogglingly pedestrian that you can't help but wonder what they spent the 6 months since the Off-Broadway production changing.

Usnavi (Lin-Manuel Miranda) owns the corner bodega, The Rosarios (a shockingly underused Priscilla Lopez and a strong Carlos Gomez) run the taxi company, and Carla and Daniela (wonderfully funny Andrea Burns and Janet Dacal) are the gossipy hens who run the beauty salon. Usnavi wants to go out with Vanessa (Karen Olivo). The Rosarios' daughter Nina (Mandy Gonzalez) has returned after dropping out of Stanford. She loves Benny (Christopher Jackson), but he's not "one of them." And then there's Abuela Claudia (Olga Meridez), who has won $96,000 in the lottery.

The story is simple enough, but Pulitzer-finalist Quiara Alegria Hudes' script is much too muddled. With Usnavi being the leading player, you'd imagine the show would be about his trying to woo Vanessa. Unfortunately, that takes the B-story slot, relegating Nina/Benny to the A-story. And while Mandy Gonzalez and Christopher Jackson make the sexiest coupling since Kelli O'Hara and Harry Connick, Jr., their story is too bland to be the lead.

You never know why her parents don't accept Benny (he's not Spanish, apparently, but, at least from where I was sitting, he doesn't look Caucasian, African-American, Asian, or American Indian.) The ending of the show, in fact, the whole denouement, is much too abrupt, and the life-altering resolution happens within too much of a blink of an eye. There's no real climax. Then again, there's no real story you're following.

It's a shame that they have to deal with this, especially since the score, choreography, and everything else is so fantastic. Lin-Manuel Miranda has crafted a mighty fine score that seemlessly blends traditional Broadway with rap, hip-hop, and R&B. Yeah, there are a few bland numbers, and a few others that need to be cut, but it's the best new Broadway score I've heard since Spring Awakening (which I've since decided is too generic for my tastes).

And Blankenbuehler's choreography is sure to net him many well deserved accolades, and I'll bet a Tony, as well. Fantastic dance numbers. Utterly brilliant.

The cast is quite good, as well. Lin-Manuel Miranda is an appealing and loveable leading player. As I've already stated, Mandy Gonzalez/Christopher Jackson and Priscilla Lopez/Carlos Gomez have wonderful chemistry and sound terrific. Too bad Lopez has nothing to do. Karen Olivo is bland. Burns/Dacal are delightful.

But the show belongs to Olga Merediz and Robin de Jesus. Merediz is beyond endearing, and her big number, "Paciencia y Fe," brings the house down. De Jesus, as Usnavi's cousin, the wannabe Macho, is Tony bait. And, if he plays his cards right, his tremendously enthusiastic performance could get him a trophy.

Design elements are all fantastically realistic. Anna Louizos is the master of City set design. Howell Binkley's lighting is attractive.

I blame director Thomas Kail's non-direction and librettist Quiara Alegria Hudes. They've turned what could be an excellent, fresh new musical into one that's merely very good.
Updated On: 2/16/08 at 07:43 PM
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dancingthrulife04
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#2
Posted: 2/16/08 at 7:47pm
I can't wait to see this next week.
http://www.beintheheights.com/katnicole1 (Please click and help me win!) I chose, and my world was shaken- So what?
The choice may have been mistaken, The choosing was not...
"Every day has the potential to be the greatest day of your life." - Lin-Manuel Miranda
"And when Idina Menzel is singing, I'm always slightly worried that her teeth are going to jump out of her mouth and chase me." - Schmerg_the_Impaler
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#2
Posted: 2/16/08 at 8:23pm
Thanks for your thoughts! I also am so excited to see this!
"Everytime you step on that stage it is somebody's first Broadway show and somebody's last Broadway show. Make it count."
Yankeefan007
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#3
Posted: 2/16/08 at 8:50pm
It's definitely enjoyable.

It just can be so much better.
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#4
Posted: 2/16/08 at 9:36pm
I totally agree with the statement.
Saw the first preview and want to go back after opening night and see the changes. 'Cause this show needs a lot of them.
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#5
Posted: 2/16/08 at 9:37pm
I can not wait to see this show !!! Co-workers of mine went last night and LOVED it !!!

I am just wondering how it can be "leagues" better than "Xanadu" with a "script that is so mind-bogglingly pedestrian"- ?

I think the strongest part of "Xanadu" is Beane's book.

Well, will see for myself tommorow ... :))



Yankeefan007
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#6
Posted: 2/16/08 at 9:49pm
I found Xanadu to be great as lite summer fare. But now it's February.

In the Heights is just an innovative piece. For the first time in Broadway musical history, Hispanic characters aren't portrayed as gangsters (West Side Story), drug addicts (Rent), or mass murderers (The Capeman).

These are the kind of Hispanic people that the world glosses over: hard-working folks who came to the country legally in search of the American dream and do whatever they can to make their lives better. We spend so much time focusing on getting the illegals out that we forget that so many have made great lives for themselves. I challenge you to find a TV show that somehow involves Hispanic chracters, where the biggest problem is that the daughter is flunking out of STANFORD.

And it was so great to see a show where nothing bad happens (well, save for Abuela dying). I was so afraid that after it was revealed she won the lotto that Usnavi or Sonny were gonna lose it like Walter Lee Younger. Or that Usnavi was somehow gonna be stabbed and killed.

So refreshing: a show about Hispanics that doesn't portray them as rapists, thugs out for violence, or the derelicts of society.
Updated On: 2/16/08 at 09:49 PM
Yankeefan007
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#7
Posted: 2/16/08 at 9:55pm
DRS, I just want to know what they've been doing for the past 7 months. If this book was the result of 7 months of changes, I'd hate to see what it was like off Broadway.

The biggest problem is the lack of a cohesive story. As I said, you don't know which one is in the forefront - Nina/Benny or Usnavi/Vanessa. Of course one or two songs could be cut ("Piragua"). And the beautiful ballad Nina sings in the second act about Abuela has the unfortunate circumstance of following the beautiful ballad Usnavi sings in the second act about Abuela.
Updated On: 2/16/08 at 09:55 PM
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#8
Posted: 2/16/08 at 9:59pm
Yankee... you might to want to edit your subject line to include "Spoilers".

So, it is leagues better than "Xanadu" because of the time of the year, or because of the way that the hispanics are portrayed? (and I DO agree with you... VERY refreshing that it does not sound like a show that is stereotyping !!)
Updated On: 2/16/08 at 09:59 PM
Yankeefan007
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#9
Posted: 2/16/08 at 10:01pm
Noted.

My bad.
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#10
Posted: 2/16/08 at 10:03pm
Love that word... "brimming"... :))
Yankeefan007
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#11
Posted: 2/16/08 at 10:04pm
Anyhoo, enjoy the show. I take it you didn't see it offBroadway?
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#12
Posted: 2/16/08 at 10:06pm
Thanks !!! I hope to :))

Nope, didnt get a chance to see it Off-bway.... re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)(
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WithoutATrace
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#13
Posted: 2/16/08 at 10:22pm
I agree that Priscilla Lopez is vastly underused...so sad. She deserves better.
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#14
Posted: 2/16/08 at 10:32pm
I heart Priscilla Lopez. Too bad she's underused. re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)
"I mean, sitting side by side with another man watching Patti LuPone play Rose in GYPSY on Broadway is essentially the equivalent of having hardcore sex." -Wanna Be A Foster. "Say 'Goody.' Say 'Bubbi.'" ... "That's it. Exactly as if it were 'Goody.' Now I know you're gonna sing 'Goody' this time, but nevertheless..."
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#15
Posted: 2/17/08 at 12:19am
I just got back from NYC for Sunday in The Park- I am tired but this is review that I was waiting for..

First and foremost- Thanks for your review. Being said that I have seen the Off-Broadway run at 37 Arts..

It looks like it has not changed that much from the Off-Broadway run based on your descriptions. I agreed with some of your observations:

1. Unfortunately, the script is so mind-bogglingly pedestrian that you can't help but wonder what they spent the 6 months since the Off-Broadway production changing.

- I thought the weakest part from the Off-Broadway was the book.

2. You never know why her parents don't accept Benny (he's not Spanish, apparently, but, at least from where I was sitting, he doesn't look Caucasian, African-American, Asian, or American Indian.)

- I think he is African-American. When I saw it.. I thought he is Hispanic from Dominican Republic...the book does not really clarify his race.

3.There's no real climax. Then again, there's no real story you're following.

- I was laughing when I saw your remark... I was thinking.. oh no.. yankee- you didn't! Its actually the 4th of July fireworks! re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)

*******

What do you think about Lin-Manuel Miranda's acting? He is a great singer, rapper & composer.. how about as an actor? My impression from the Off- Broadway that he was the weakest whn it comes to acting- probably just me...though I like him a lot as a composer- I think he is really talented and very raw - that's fresh & innovative on Broadway..I think that's very attractive...but I dont know as an actor?


The Good Points:

1. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography -love him since Fosee!

2. Design elements are all fantastically realistic. Anna Louizos is the master of City set design. Howell Binkley's lighting is attractive.

-specially the lights on Geo Washington Bridge and love the firewworks.

- though the scenic design kinda look like her design on Avenue Q- but I have been to Spanish Harlem and I can see the realism in her design.

3. Standout : Robin de Jesus.

One thing though and I want to stress this out : I WANT TO PRAISE THE CREATIVE TEAM & THE PRODUCERS for taking a big leap from tiresome generic cookie cutter shows that were having lately- thats its either Disney, Movie turned into a Musical, Jukebox Musicals.. Its nice to have a FRESH, RAW and ORIGINAL MUSICAL agian on Broadwy.. by saying that... IN THE HEIGHTS, N2N & PASSING STRANGE are really on my top list of musicals this season....I know there's problems...but I just want a fresh breathe of air! re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)

J*

Updated On: 2/17/08 at 12:19 AM
joniray
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#16
Posted: 2/17/08 at 3:16am
I saw the show Off-Broadway and enjoyed in enough to see it a few times there. I do think the story is a bit weak, but I love the score, choreography and cast.

About Benny, I *think* (my memory may be fuzzy on this, but this is what I remember as being my impression) that Benny is Dominican, or, rather his parents are (and many Dominicans are darker and sometimes mistaken as African Americans), but he, being entirely brought up in the states, never learned Spanish, so he is an "outsider" in that respect.

About this comment:

“These are the kind of Hispanic people that the world glosses over: hard-working folks who came to the country legally in search of the American dream…”

I don't remember it ever being mentioned that everyone in the show were living in the states legally. Being quite familiar with the neighborhood, it would be unlikely that all the characters portrayed in the show are. But I don't think it matters or that it is the point. The show is about Hispanic immigrants, or descendents of Hispanic immigrants, and their lives and culture here, whether they are legal or not.
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#17
Posted: 2/17/08 at 5:19am
I disagree that the climax is the fireworks. Why would you have an Act 2 to a show if the climax happens in Act 1??? Is all of Act 2 then the denumat? I think the climax is (spoiler) when Usnavy decides after seeing the picure of Abuela that his purpose is to stay put and change the world by changing his world and his community.

Another thing that I feel differently about is the use of Priscilla Lopez. No, she is no Morales in this show, but I think that she doesn't have the voice for it anymore. I don't know, I may be wrong and missing something and maybe she's still an amazing singer; but it seems that both on the Leading Ladies of Broadway and in this show, her voice just doesn't seem as strong as it was in ACL years ago. Girlfriend's doing 8 shows a week. If she were given these big, belty songs I don't know if she'd have the voice to get to the Tonys in June. Her voice just sounds weaker than back in the day.

Anyway...I loved the show and can't wait to see it again. The plot line was thin and simple, but at least I didn't need a chart in the playbill so that I knew what was going on. You definately get more jokes if you speak Spanish and/or live in NY. Nonetheless, I wept....at least twice.
Yankeefan007
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#18
Posted: 2/17/08 at 7:18am
I believe, in the Off-Broadway production, the show ended with fireworks? Either way, it doesn't here. Act I ends with fancy lighting that looks like fireworks, but no pyrotechnics.

I still can't say about Benny, but all I know is that they need to come up with a better reason for them to hate him. 'Cause in the boondocks of the nosebleed section, he's as Hispanic-looking as they are. And now for a dose of racism: all my Dominican and Puerto Rican friends and acquaintances hate Mexican people. Apparently, non-Mexicans look down on Mexicans, for whatever reason. Why not make him Mexican? That would solve a problem AND add another dimension to the show.
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#19
Posted: 2/17/08 at 10:20am
I personally want to see this show. As a man of Latino heritage, I'm excited to see, as Yankeefan put it, "a show about Hispanics that doesn't portray them as rapists, thugs out for violence, or the derelicts of society."

Butters, go buy World of Warcraft, install it on your computer, and join the online sensation before we all murder you. --Cartman: South Park ATTENTION FANS: I will be played by James Barbour in the upcoming musical, "BroadwayWorld: The Musical."
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#20
Posted: 2/17/08 at 10:42am
Testing - I'll be honest: I'm surprised Xanadu's still playing. That's not to say it's a bad show, I just never figured it would actually find a niche audience (but did anyone!?) I just think that, if it were any other season, Xanadu would have been here and gone already.

What's working in its favor is the fact that the season's two most anticipated musicals, Young Frankenstein and The Little Mermaid, were so underwhelming.

But now that there's stuff of substance playing on Broadway, it seems like, under normal circumstances, Xanadu's loveable fluff would be long gone.

Know what I mean? I'm not talking ill about the show (it was indeed loveable fluff)...
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#21
Posted: 2/17/08 at 11:36am
Yankee,

To tell you the truth, I dont know if it really did find a "niche" audience. It seems to appeal to wide variety of people, that just want to have a good time. I think if they had really find their niche, the attendance figures would be better every week.

I also think that the reviews helped. I have to respectfully disagree with you in regards to it closing had it not been for the underwhelming other shows.

It has received (by far) the best reviews of the musicals that have opened so far ("Mermaid, "YF", and you might even want to throw "N2N" in there, given the talk of a possible transfer)

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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#22
Posted: 2/17/08 at 11:41am
Thanks for all the insight.

I am looking forward to seeing this (despite the flaws) but won't be doing so until April. (Along with South Pacific, and SitPwG)

If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#23
Posted: 2/17/08 at 12:47pm
In fairness to XANADU- I agree with testing .. its the best far reviewed new (musical) show among new musical.

Xanadu might have a shot wth a nomination for Best New Musical...After I heard the 22 track demo songs from CRY-BABY...I was shocked that it was just plain bad- the score.- im sorry to say that. I hope they made some changes.

Find the demo for CRY BABY and you know EXACTLY what I am talking!

J*



Updated On: 2/17/08 at 12:47 PM
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re: My thoughts on IN THE HEIGHTS (long)#24
Posted: 2/17/08 at 1:35pm
I'm glad someone else has heard that dreadful demo to Cry-Baby. Ugh.
-Benjamin
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