Sure, Manhattan’s Washington Heights and let’s say, our Vadnais Heights, aren’t exactly the same.
But the people in them — the people who strive to be something or go somewhere, are about as relatable as you can get.
The story of “In the Heights” isn’t the easiest to explain to really get the full jist of it but watching it all unfold is entertainment at its best. The story hits the life issues everyone can struggle with — love, acceptance, relationships, careers, making a name for yourself and living up to expectations.
And truly, when I say story — I should say stories. There’s the story of the honest store owner, just trying to keep his head above water and make his parents proud, while juggling an enormous crush on the local beautician. Then there’s the girl that got out — left for the Ivy League and became a poster child for the community, only to realize it wasn’t what she thought it would be.
There’s the guy that has to prove he’s good enough. The girl who wants to show the world she can be more than what’s expected of her. The guy who enjoys freedom but needs direction.
With all of these stories bundled into one show — with modern choreography and Tony-award winning music — I was definitely curious to see how it would all come together at the Orpheum Theatre Tuesday night.
The production wasn’t anything like I thought it would be — and that was a good thing. I was surprised to see a show break out of the Broadway mold and infuse hip-hop, rap and even salsa onto a stage more typically prepped for jazz hands and ballads.
It’s also one of the most diverse casts that I’ve seen — which was so refreshing after watching “Grease.” (No offense to “Grease” — I know that was a totally different era. But just sayin’.)
While the singing was phenomenal and the actors were superb, I have to admit, I caught myself most interested in the dancing of the show. Throughout each scene, there are members of the ensemble dancing during segues or stage changes and I found that to be most entertaining. There’s just something about watching someone bust out some break dancing during a song that brings it up a notch for me.
Speaking of the songs, they were a lot of fun and made for a uniquely diverse soundtrack. Usnavi’s rapping (Side note: He’s named after the first boat his parents saw, “U.S. Navy” — hilarious) was beautiful. And I know that’s a really weird way to describe rap, but it truly was. It was a lot more like beat poetry than rap, but yet delivered like rap. And Usnavi — played by Kyle Beltran — really delivered.
Also, the young woman who played Nina, a Miss Arielle Jacobs, had one of the most gorgeous voices I’ve ever heard. She has a way of belting out a tune and making it seem so soft and delicate.
It was a great story and an even greater performance. It will make you laugh — and yes, I admit it — even cry. Like a fellow audience member so perfectly put it, it’s like the updated version of “West Side Story.” And really, how can you go wrong with that?
But enough about the show — let’s talk after party. Once the cast members took their final bow, everyone headed over to Seven for the late night after party with the cast.
The party took place on the top floor of Seven, which on its own is pretty darn sweet. There was food and drinks aplenty but nothing could beat rubbing elbows with the cast and crew.
We saw Beltran, aka: Usnavi, wandering around a bit first, then Rogelio Douglas, Jr., who plays Benny, walked in. A friend that I was with stopped Mr. Benny and congratulated him on a job well done before heading straight into nerd territory and asking him how long it took him to get all the words down to “Benny’s Dispatch.” Yep, he knew the song title.
Douglas laughed a bit and said he’s used to mimicking rappers like Eminem and Jay-Z so learning the rap of “Benny’s Dispatch” didn’t take him too long.
Before long, the entire cast and ensemble had arrived and once the Latin music hit the speakers, a group dance party began. The cast hit the dance floor showing off their moves from the show and a few of their own.
It was one of those nights where all of a sudden you look at the clock and it’s almost midnight on a Tuesday and you’ve got work the next day. But let’s be honest, that’s the true mark of a spectacular evening.