Last Wednesday night I saw In The Heights on Broadway. I’m happy to report that the show is still packing the Richard Rodgers Theater over six months after it won Best Musical at the 2008 Tony Awards, and over eight months after I saw it the first time.
In The Heights is one of the best productions I’ve seen in the past few years, and is quickly climbing the carefully coordinated hierarchy of my favorite musicals. The story is simple, relatable, and arresting in its currency. The performances across the board are filled with heart, making it obvious how much the actors on stage love this piece and love their jobs. The dancing is top-notch, combining a multitude of styles and approaches, and the outstanding music and lyrics are equally diverse, reflecting influences from across time and cultures. I highly recommend the cast recording, which just won a Grammy earlier this month.
The show is an ensemble piece, but if there is a star of the show, it is Lin-Manuel Miranda, who dreamed up this story and these characters and wrote all the music and lyrics himself. Lin played his last performance this past Sunday, so I was very fortunate to see him playing neighborhood narrator Usnavi. Watching someone literally live their dream before your eyes is a goosebump-inducing experience. I’m sure his replacement is great, but Lin will forever own this role, and rightly so.
One of the perks of working within the industry–and yes, I mean “show biz”; and no, I won’t divulge anymore details on my occupation–is that I get to do some mighty exciting things. One of them is getting to go backstage at Broadway shows. The marvelous Mandy Gonzalez, who plays Nina in the show, was waiting backstage for my mom and I after the show. (Don’t laugh; who deserves a share of your on-the-job fun every once in a while more than Mom?)
There was quite a lot of foot traffic backstage–much more than I’ve encountered before–so we chatted with Mandy while standing on the stage of the Richard Rodgers Theater, rather than hanging in her dressing room. Yes, standing on a Broadway stage, with real Broadway sets, even in an empty theater, is just as cool as you think it is. Mom was eating up all the details of the authentic and versatile set, while Mandy told me, with a bit of a smirk, that her co-star Priscilla Lopez is just as flummoxed as I am regarding the actions of a certain New York superstar athlete.
We walked out with her, where the fans were waiting five rows deep for pictures and autographs. I give the Heights cast–all Broadway casts, in fact–a whole lot of credit for not being overwhelmed by such a sight after each performance. It was half-exhilarating, half-terrifying. Being a pro, Mandy started graciously walking along the barricades, signing and smiling, while Mom and I snuck away unmolested.
Bottom line here, kids: With or without Lin-Manuel on stage, this show is one you should see. It is a great glimpse of where musical theater is heading with a new generation at the creative wheel. Most importantly, it is a wholly original piece–not a revival; not based off of a book, or off of a movie, or off of a movie of a book–and it may be the best original musical of the decade. See it. Until you get your tickets, enjoy the clip below.