About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, January 3, 2011

In The Heights

The next stop on my quest to catch up with the January closings on Broadway that I'd really miss seeing was In The Heights, which opened almost three years ago after a successful run off Broadway, and won some Tony Awards in 2008.

Alas, the things it's best at are things I don't appreciate in a musical as much as some other people, and the things I do appreciate, this one isn't so good at.

It's one of the very few musicals to make it to Broadway at least so far that's heavily influence by latino culture, with a bit of african-american mixed in. The eponymous heights are the latino areas of Washington Heights, the part of Manhattan near to the George Washington Bridge which looms over the street scene, which centers on a bodega and a car service. Nothing wrong with that, exactly, just that if you took away the latino rhythms and characters you'd be left with a story that could as easily have been done and probably was for that matter with a Jewish tailor shop or an Irish pub subbing for the car service or bodega, in fact one character comments on the Irish that were still in the neighborhood way back when, and when the sign on the car service is taken down we see one for O'Hallaran's Car Service beneath with a clover logo.

There are bigger or smaller stories you can do even within this kind of background, and the story here is small. Too small for a 2.5 hour show, you ask me. Young girl is coming back home from Stanford for the summer, we find out she has taken a leave of absence without telling her parents, in part because she was too busy working for her tuition to have time to study so her grades suffered. Dad decides to sell car service and use money to fund her through college, dad also doesn't want her having a romantic relationship with the young black man who works at the car service. Parts of this go back to Romeo and Juliet if not before, other parts have been the meat of 659 other immigrant dramas. Honestly, there's so little plot and it's all so perfunctory we can safely say there's really no plot at all. And I'm a plot person.

This wispy plot is filled out with an assortment of character types. The wonderful grandmother, the bodega owner, the young dreamer, a shaved ice vendor. Of all the characters big and small the only one I found at all interesting was the young man at the car service who was in love with the owner's daughter. Either the writing or the actor or something had a little bit extra for me there.

Absent much of a plot or much in the way of interesting characters, the musical is mostly about having big production numbers, the kind that are spoofed by the opening number of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, and then interspersed with those you get the daughter with her "I want/I wish" song, and grandmother has her big number. People dance a lot, they sing a lot, they do it for 2.5 hours less the 15-minute intermission with the briefest of interludes to allow for the most perfunctory developments of the plot.

And it's just not for me. It wasn't for me in Hairspray, which kept coming to a halt in order to give every character his or her big number. It wasn't for me in the production I saw of La Cage many many years ago where they just kept dancing and dancing to no purpose, it isn't for me in the big dance numbers that pop up in The King and I or Oklahoma. I like the music to tell a real story about real characters that I really care for. I found that in Next to Normal, didn't find it here.

I can understand why this has had a good three year run. I can understand why I waited on seeing it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I can't dispute that the book is the weakest element of In the Heights, I love the music, the dancing, the cast, the characters so much that I just don't care. It's so full of life and joy and love. I always leave the theater with a big smile and on a total, natural high. I'm going to miss ITH tremendously. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it.
For the record, I also love Next to Normal. Like Heights, I went into it with very little idea of what to expect, and it completely blew me away. It is, without doubt, the most powerful experience I've ever had in a theater (or possibly anywhere), and it continues to have a profound impact on my life. I never imagined that such a show could exist, and I am very grateful that it does. I will be at the final performance of both these shows. I'm both excited and dreading it at the same time. They both mean so much to me, and I'm very sorry to see them go.