Alabanza, In The Heights

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Last night, In The Heights played its final performance on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

While Hillary and I did not attend the final show, we had purchased our tickets for the show's third-to-last performance, on Saturday night, a few months ago, with the knowledge that Lin-Manuel Miranda would be returning to reprise his original role of Usnavi. Mr. Miranda just happens to be one of the most unbelievably talented people on Broadway - after writing the earliest draft of In The Heights while still in college, he won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Original Score of a Musical, and the show itself was named the Best Musical of the year. And while every actor who has played the character of Usnavi throughout the show's run has been wonderful, there is an unexplainable magic in watching the man who wrote the show perform in the central role.

I had been fortunate enough to catch Mr. Miranda back in December 2008, before his original departure from the show, and could not wait for Hillary to see him as well as the rest of the Broadway cast, including Chris Jackson (Benny), Andrea Burns (Daniela), Priscilla Lopez (Camila), Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia), and Seth Stewart (Grafitti Pete), all original company members who had either stayed for the show's entire run or returned to the closing cast. I had also seen Marcy Harriell (Vanessa) and Shaun Taylor-Corbett (Sonny) in the show before. And although Hillary had only seen the tour cast up until this weekend, she had been raving to me about Arielle Jacobs (Nina) for a year. Literally. So our mutual excitement to finally see the show one last time overtook any sadness we felt at the show's imminent closing as we waited in line to get to our seats.

As soon as the lights dimmed and Graffiti Pete entered the stage to spray-paint Usnavi's bodega, it was clear that the performance was going to be electric. The show was entirely sold out, and rarely have I been part of an audience that was collectively so enthusiastic and so respectful at the same time. The give-and-take of energy between cast and audience was amazing and palpable. The entrance applause for Mr. Miranda easily lasted an entire minute, and nearly every principal character got entrance applause as well. But in the midst of such an appreciative audience, it was exciting to realize that there were plenty of people in the audience who had never seen the show before. There were large, audible gasps at several turning points in the show, such as Abuela revealing that she has won the lottery ticket, Kevin telling off Camila with the announcement that the family's car service business is in his name, and Nina appearing on the balcony with Benny at the beginning of the second act. We both were touched that even as the lights go out on Washington Heights in the show's Broadway home, the messages of In The Heights are still spreading to new audiences.

From our seats in the rear mezzanine, we were able to take in Andy Blankenbuehler's stunning choreography, especially during "96,000" and "Blackout." The transitions between scenes and the way the ensemble moves around the stage, often using slow-motion movements that are accented with Howell Binkley's lighting, are just incredible.

And the show itself? It's not enough to say that the closing cast of In The Heights was as close to perfect as it gets. Tony Chiroldes as Kevin and Ruben Florez as Piragua Guy, both understudies for the evening, were terrific. All of the original and long-time cast members mentioned above were terrific. Ms. Merediz brought down the house with "Paciencia Y Fe." The trio of salon girls, played by Ms. Burns, Ms. Harriell, and Courtney Reed were hilarious in "No Me Diga." Arielle Jacobs was terrific. We had originally worried that her Nina might look too young against Mr. Jackson's Benny, but our fears were proved untrue; her GORGEOUS voice is very mature-sounding, and the fact that she actually looks like a college freshmen, the age of her character, both played in her favor wonderfully. One of our favorite parts of her performance was the way she threw her arms around as she delivered the line, "As I walked home from Senior Studies, I'd see you rappin' with your buddies" to Benny in "When You're Home." And "Everything I Know," especially in the context of the show's closing, was heartbreaking as the character of Nina acknowledged how one special person, or one special show, can affect so many lives in such a dynamic way.

And as for Mr. Miranda....there are really no words to describe the way he goes about performing the show and the words he wrote. His Usnavi is filled with the eagerness, dorkiness ("Oh, snap! Who's that?! Don't touch me, I'm too hot, yes!"), and determination that the character personifies. He is a joy to watch, and the sight of him stepping to the front of the stage to rap the final section of the show - "Yeah, I'm a streetlight chillin' in the heat, I illuminate the stories of the people in the street" - is one of the top moments in theater that I've ever witnessed, period. To be able to meet Mr. Miranda at the stage door, after he graciously spent nearly an hour working his way through the large crowd of fans (he apologized to US for waiting so patiently in the, WHAT!?), was a complete honor. As he choked out the line, "You did this last night? There goes my flight," leading into the end of the show's "Finale," it finally hit me that this was it - truly, in the words of Sonny, the end of an era.

In The Heights means an awful lot to many people I know. On a personal note, it was the fourth show I ever saw on Broadway, more than two and a half years ago. Its marquee always been there on 46th Street, and it will be very, very strange to see another show in the Richard Rodgers (Robin Williams' Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is the next tenant). But while its wildly successful Broadway run has ended, In The Heights lives on for another few months in its first national tour, and Mr. Miranda rapped in his closing night speech,
"And I know how upset some of y'all are gettin', but listen, In The Heights ain't closing, this is spreading! And yeah, I'm up here up on this lectern, but one day you'll be somewhere Midwestern, somewhere chillin' in some out-of-theater lobby, some little high-schooler's gonna be playin' Usnavi!"
In his opening night review back in March 2008, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood described In The Heights as a "singular new sensation" and "anything but generic," and these descriptions could not be more accurate. In The Heights will be sorely missed on Broadway. It hurt my heart to watch the energy, passion, and heart onstage Saturday night and know that the life of the show in that state would be over so soon. But there is no doubt that Mr. Miranda and crew have changed Broadway forever with their little musical that highlighted the vibrancy and joy of a community, helped us to learn the true importance of family, and taught us how to find home.


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