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In the Heights review (2/22)

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adamgreer
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In the Heights review (2/22)#1
Posted: 2/23/08 at 12:39am
I didn't catch this show off-Broadway, so I went in tonight with no preconceptions about the show. I don't know what changes were made, but apparently they were significant, as the people next to me had seen it off-Broadway, and were discussing at some length what had changed.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this show, despite a few quibbles. The dancing is sensational (engrave that Tony now), the score is a lot of fun, and the cast is pretty exceptional.

All of the women that make up the supporting cast are wonderful. Andrea Burns, Priscilla Lopez, and Janet Ducal make the most of their stage time. Lopez, in particular, looks radiant. Shame she has very little to do. Karen Olivo has got a fantastic voice, and sounds phenomenal. I just wish her character's story was a little more interesting (more on that later).

I also enjoyed the performances of Carlos Gomez and Robin DeJesus. Gomez struggles with trying to maintain his paternal role were particularly engaging. He and Lopez have great chemistry. DeJesus gets the classic "buddy role" that provides a lot of the comedy, but he does a fine job with it, and avoids making his character into a cliche (Passing Strange performers take note!).

Olga Merediz' performance as Abuela anchors the show, especially since so much of act 2 is about her. I enjoyed her solo, "Patience and Faith," a lot, as did the rest of the audience. She makes a great impression, when she's not onstage, you want her back.

The two stars of this show, however, are Mandy Gonzalez and Christopher Jackson. Those two have great chemistry together, and the attraction (and tension) between them is palpable. They're both blessed with wonderful voices, and their acting is spot on. In fact, because their acting is so good, their story becomes the emotional center of the piece, which is problematic (more on that in a moment).

Which brings me to my one problem with the cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda. I had read such wonderful things about him, and I was frankly very disappointed in his performance. He wrote this show, and you would have thought he would have given himself more to do. His story had very little interest for me, and I honestly couldn't have cared less what happened with that character. I don't necessarily blame him, because he seems to be a good enough actor. It's just, that character didn't resonate with me, and was fairly uninteresting, especially compared to the colorful characters around him.

And that is my biggest, and only problem with this otherwise wonderful show: a very poorly written, amateurish, book. Miranda's character should be the show's central figure. His story should be front and center, and we should care the most about his character. However, the Nina/Benny story is much more developed, and as such, is a whole lot more interesting. The show feels like it belongs to Nina or the Abuela right now, as it is their actions that drive the plot of the show. My other problem with the book is that there were several missed opportunities for some great dramatic scenes- wouldn't you have loved to see the scene between Camila and Kevin where they find out about the money Abuela wants to give them to pay for Nina's education? I also had a problem with the ending, which resolves very little, and seems rather abrupt.

I don't know how or if these problems are fixable, but it certainly doesn't kill this show, which even with that issue, is still a very good musical. I had a wonderful time watching it this evening, and it was certainly a crowd-pleaser, based on the audience reaction tonight.


Updated On: 2/23/08 at 12:39 AM
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#2
Posted: 2/23/08 at 12:48am
How funny - I like a lot of the other actors, but Lin-Manuel is pretty much 80% of the reason I like this show. I like that he's kind of in the background but manages to be the heart of it.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#2
Posted: 2/23/08 at 12:54am
Adam- Thanks for your review. I saw the show during the Off-Broadway run... I agree in what you say : My two problems with the Off-Broadway run was:

1.Lin-Manuel Miranda. = I felt like he was not a good actor, but everything is perfect-singing, rapping, dancing.. felt like there was something missing in him.

2, Book- very weak..

though its an enjoyable show and its ORIGINAL & has a LATIN FLAVOR to it..that's why I like it... re: In the Heights (2/22)

btw- I will be seeing the show next weekend.

J*

Updated On: 2/23/08 at 12:54 AM
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#3
Posted: 2/23/08 at 12:59am
Any disappointments I had in his performance were gone by the finale. What an incredibly beautiful song.

Updated On: 2/23/08 at 12:59 AM
joniray
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#4
Posted: 2/23/08 at 12:59am
I havenít seen the Broadway version yet but I wonder why you think Usnaviís "story" should be the main focus. It seemed pretty clear to me in the Off-Broadway version that Nina and Bennyís story was the central story in the piece. Usnavi seemed more like a guide through the show than the central character. Since you thought Nina and Bennyís story was well developed, why would you want to make Usnavi the main character/focus?
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#5
Posted: 2/23/08 at 1:02am
Disappointment and Lin-Manuel Miranda can not be in the same sentence. He was perfect. I blocked out the Nina/Benny story, and focused on the others, so I enjoyed the show fine!
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#6
Posted: 2/23/08 at 1:04am
Touche.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#7
Posted: 2/23/08 at 1:04am
I, too, saw it Off-Broadway and am wondering why people seem to think Usnavi's story should be at the center. This is the second time in a few days I've read this, too. I watched a video interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda the other day and he made it pretty clear that Usnavi's role as narrator/guide was because he works at the bodega, and all the other characters and their stories literally pass through him.
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Updated On: 2/23/08 at 01:04 AM
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#8
Posted: 2/23/08 at 1:23am
I haven't seen it or know anything about it, and I was already sure he was the narrator, more than actual developed character.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#9
Posted: 2/23/08 at 5:45am
It's an ensemble show...there really is no one star
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#10
Posted: 2/23/08 at 7:04am
The book is awful and it brings the whole thing down.

And I am in agreement that it seems they have no idea which story they want to tell - Usnavi, or Nina. If they want to tell Nina's story, they don't need Usnavi as a narrator.

There are plenty of ways to create appropriate exposition without the use of a narrator.

The problem is that they're trying to make the the "I want to date Karen Olivo" (forgive me for not remembering the name) just as big as the Nina/Benny storyline. It's very unclear which one is the A story and which one is the B story.

Scriptwriting 101, folks. Figure out which story you want to lead, figure out which story you want to follow.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#11
Posted: 2/23/08 at 7:37am
"I watched a video interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda the other day and he made it pretty clear that Usnavi's role as narrator/guide was because he works at the bodega, and all the other characters and their stories literally pass through him. "

The problem with that is that he never really "narrates" beyond the opening number. The show takes place in "real time," as it were, and there is no real commentary by Usnavi or anyone else. Also, beyond that opening number and maybe a scene or two after, the bodega doesn't have any customers. Usnavi doesn't really guide us through the story at all, since it is unfolding before our eyes. He is not omniscient or some outside observer (the way Stew, for example, is in Passing Strange) so there is only so much "guiding" he can do. To be honest, there is no real need for a narrator or guide in this piece. The story could stand on its own quite easily.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#12
Posted: 2/23/08 at 7:49am
I gotta agree with Crush--- Its an ensemble show, and there really isn't one star.

I think the energy of the show, along with a great score, and amazing choreography, trump any shortcomings that the book has.



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re: In the Heights (2/22)#13
Posted: 2/23/08 at 8:35am
I dunno - without a good book, you're just watching organized chaos. Usnavi isn't the narrator - he's a much a part of the story as Benny is.

The problem is that, since the main character is supposed to be introduced during the opening number, you expect that Usnavi and Vanessa (I remembered her name!) would be the lead story. You find out in that one song that he wants to go out with her but hasn't worked up the confidence to ask her out.

Then Nina and Benny come in, out of nowhere, grab the focus, and you never see Usnavi and Vanessa together again until nearly the end of the first act.

What they have now is a sort-of "throw-up" of characters on stage, and they try to give each one of them their own story and individual identity. Unfortunately, they need to cut it down to a core group.

I feel that the core group SHOULD be Benny, Nina, and her parents. Although it's been done to death, the story of "Why won't they accept Benny into their family?" is much more compelling than whether or not Usnavi will ask Vanessa out. However, they haven't come up with a cohesive way to make the acceptance storyline any more than a traditional Hollywood cliche.

And it sounds like they still haven't done anything with the ending. The show just stops - everything is resolved with a song - Usnavi is inspired to stay because of Graffiti on his store. Nina's parents don't accept Benny. Yet they all live happily ever after. The end.

IN THE HEIGHTS has SO MUCH potential. It just needs a script doctor. Where's Tom Meehan or Neil Simon when you need them?
Updated On: 2/23/08 at 08:35 AM
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#14
Posted: 2/23/08 at 8:54am
^^^ I definitely agree with you on that...Kinda like a Robert Altman movie..soo many characters....

They really need to tighten up the book and show what direction they wanna go...a more define one....that's what I mean....

I think its like Spring Awakening...too many things going on in the story. It seems like based on your descriptions... its still the same show that I saw during previews at 37 Arts..huh?

Edit: Yankeefan... youre last posting.. is like you read my mind EXACTLY what I felt with the OFF- BROADWAY run..

J*


Updated On: 2/23/08 at 08:54 AM
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#15
Posted: 2/23/08 at 10:07am
Sometimes things work out in ways that aren't conventional or pat, and sometimes the simplest of things happen. Perhaps Usnavi had never really wanted to leave deep down and the sight of the graffiti (not wanting to spoil) was what was needed to make him realize where he needed to be. Sometimes parents never except the man their daughter falls in love with, 'no one is good enough for their daugther.' I was interested in everyone's storyline and thus it could have been 3 or 4 different musicals, following one particular plot. The book might not be perfect, but the overall feeling IN THE HEIGHTS left me was on of great jubilation, and that's just fine by me.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#16
Posted: 2/23/08 at 10:10am
Yankee,

I agree with a lot of what you say, but a few things..

I understand that the show was off-broadway, and changes could have been made, but the producers MIGHT have felt that since it received so many accolades during that run, they didnt need to make changes during the transition to Broadway.

Just a thought.

Now that it IS on Broadway, yes, changes should be made... but dont forget... the Broadway run is just a week into previews.

I am pretty certain (from eavesdropping a bit) that some changes will be made.

As far as Benny not being accepted by Nina's parents. Its more her dad than her mother. Camila is sort of non-committal.

And while I do understand that the underlying theme might be the fact that Benny is not Latino, I still thnk Kevin just feels that Benny is not good enough for his daughter. He would not be the first father that feels that way.

The biggest problem that I have with your last post was saying that "Usnavi is inspired to stay because of Graffiti on his store"-

He is inspired to stay because he feels that Abuela Claudia AND his parents would want him to stay where he grew up. And he feels the same way. The graffiti/mural just serves as a means to remind him of that.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#17
Posted: 2/23/08 at 10:21am
I understand changes have been made, as well, and I've heard more are going in. Unfortunately, I've also heard that the team is having trouble deciding how to make the story less muddled (re: Nina/Benny, Usnavi/Vanessa).
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#18
Posted: 2/23/08 at 10:36am
<< Sometimes parents never except the man their daughter falls in love with, 'no one is good enough for their daugther.' >>

Exactly... I mean, look at is this way. The one thing that Kevin was so proud of was the fact that Nina was going to Stanford. So, now you have Benny (regardless of his ethnic background) that works at a Car/Limo service, and could possibly keep Nina from going back to Stanford for her degree.

I think many fathers would feel the same way about Benny.
Not saying whether it's right or wrong. Just saying that it happens all the time.
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re: In the Heights (2/22)#19
Posted: 2/23/08 at 10:37am
"He is inspired to stay because he feels that Abuela Claudia AND his parents would want him to stay where he grew up. And he feels the same way. The graffiti/mural just serves as a means to remind him of that."

Except that, it is Abuela who encourages him to leave in the first place.

Since we're discussing spoilers, let me mention another issue with the book. The minute you hear the bodega sold a winning lottery ticket, it's blatantly obvious who it belongs to. Once she has the money, it's also fairly obvious that she's going to kick the bucket before long.

"Perhaps Usnavi had never really wanted to leave deep down and the sight of the graffiti (not wanting to spoil) was what was needed to make him realize where he needed to be. Sometimes parents never except the man their daughter falls in love with, 'no one is good enough for their daugther."

If that is the case, then they need to show this somehow. Give Usnavi a song before his big revelation in the finale. Give him a scene where he discusses his doubts with Sonny or Vanessa.

As Yank said, the reason the Benny/Nina story is so much more engaging than Usnavi/Vanessa is because the stakes are so much higher for them. There's more conflict, and more opportunity for good dramatic work. Watching Usnavi be too chicken to ask Vanessa out (and then having Sonny do it for him) is not particularly interesting.