February 16, 2007

Viva "In the Heights"

Everyone who loves theater loves the thrill of seeing something fresh and exciting. So although the musical In the Heights isn’t on Broadway (it’s playing in a now-deserted corner of what used to be Manhattan’s thriving garment district) I agreed to go when my friend Bill, an obsessive reader of theater blogs, websites and chat rooms, said he’d been seeing good things about it. The show, which centers around a group of Hispanic neighbors in the Washington Heights section of the city, isn’t the kind of singular sensation that A Chorus Line or Rent were (although there’s a nice symmetry in the fact that Priscilla Lopez, the original feisty Diana Morales in Chorus Line, plays the feisty mom in Heights). But In the Heights is still exciting because of the way its talented 27 year-old composer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda combines the musical idioms of hip-hop, salsa and traditional Broadway. And even more because it’s an encouraging sign that young people are again bringing fresh energy and contemporary flavors to musical theater.

Bill and I weren’t the only ones making the trek to see the show; the audience last night was speckled with insiders like longtime publicist Carol Fineman, sometime leading man Kevin Anderson and the legendary composer John Kander. Bill, a former actor, has at least a nodding acquaintance with seemingly everyone in the theater community and so we nodded at Kander during intermission. I wanted to ask Kander, who with his late partner Fred Ebb wrote Chicago and Cabaret among other great shows, what he thought of Heights but I’m a native New Yorker and, of course, we’re all too cool to do anything like that. As it turns out, I didn’t have to ask. As soon as the final song ended, Kander leapt to his feet to lead the standing ovation. I still don’t know what he really thought of the show, but I do know that his gesture of support was wonderfully gracious. And that kind of enthusiasm for the future of the art form is one more thing I love about the theater. Kander’s last collaboration with Ebb, Curtains, starts previews next week and is scheduled to open on March 22. I’ve always been a fan of their work but I’m looking forward to seeing this one even more now.

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