Broadway Review: In The Heights

by September 29, 2008

by Omar Mazariego

A few weeks ago, my Bushwick brethern, Massiel, reached out to me asking me if I knew of any Broadway plays that she could check out to complete a college assignment she was given. That was like asking Barack Obama if he knew of any exclusive golf clubs one could join.

The closest I’ve ever been to a Broadway play was when I was in elementary school and I had to perform in our school play, West Side Story. Because of my Salvadorean complexion, I was cast as a Shark. I didn’t wanna be a bad guy–I wanted to be a Jet, a good guy. But the few white kids in our school and the light skinned Puerto Ricans got to be the Jets. That was my first taste of racial discrimination. Thus began my animosity toward the white man. Then they tried to get me to be the dude that shot Tony at the end of the play, but I refused. I smelled a set-up and felt that the cap gun would somehow end up with a real bullet, putting me under the jail and thus bringing my 3rd Grade reign to an end. But that’s another story on its own.

Anyway, I didn’t know of any plays but I did remember my homegirl Navani telling me about a play called “In The Heights” that she caught just a few days earlier. So I told Massy about that and she asked me to join her. I was hesitant cause I’m not the type to wear a tux or suit, but I figured what the hell? What’s the worst that could happen? They kick me out for wearing a black tee, jeans and Timbs? After all, In The Heights is a musical about Latinos living in the hood in the Bronx. I might as well be starring in the muthaf*cka.

So the other night I went and copped some tickets for the 7:00 p.m. show. And just like most voluptuous women in NY, Massy took her pretty-ass time and ended up getting there at 7:30pm. I’m thinking we ain’t getting in, but they was cool and we got in. Guess me wearing Timbs and Massy wearing flip-flops ain’t matter to them. She hurried up the stairs, turned around and had the nerve to tell me, “Come on, Omar. We’re missing the show because of you.” I was ready to trip her ass on them stairs. She’s a funny character like that though.

We got to the 3rd floor and then this young usher dude looked at our tix and said, “Y’all in the back. Wanna sit in the front?” Hells yeah! So he takes us to some better seats and we enter the theater while they’re halfway done with some singing and dancing. Soon as we sit down everyone starts clapping. I’m thinking, “Y’all must’ve heard about me!”

Anyway, “In The Heights” is a musical which centers around a couple of characters living in the BX who all share the same dream: a better life. Some characters were more important than others, but each played their part respectively. You had Usnavi, the dude who owned the bodega that his father left him. Kevin, the man who owned a car and limo service who employed a Spanish dude who didn’t know the culture. Abuela Claudia, the old lady from the block who everyone loves (you know every hood has one of those) and the owner of the nail salon (I forgot her name) who really just gossips.

From what I got, Kevin’s daughter comes back home from Stanford only to tell her parents that she had drop out because she couldn’t afford the bills for books and whatnot. So she sang a song about that as did her father. Meanwhile Usnavi is trying to win over this shorty named Vanessa, but she’s blind to his feelings (story of my life). So he rapped about that and she sang a song about getting out the hood.

But things in the hood changed once Abuela Claudia hits the lotto. So she sang about growing up in Cuba and what she’d do with the money as did everyone else in the cast. Just a bunch of greedy ass muthaf*ckas. The way that old lady sang her lungs out I thought she was gonna pass out right on stage. She did her though.

Then at halftime this dude was walking up and down the aisle selling the soundtrack to the play. I would’ve bought it too if I had cash on me. He didn’t look Debit Card trustworthy though. So I fronted.

Second half started and it was more of the same. It became more of a love story, what with Kevin’s daughter and his employee hooking up. And Abuela’s plan on spreading the paper amongst her loved ones led to a few more cool songs and dances.

That’s the basis of the story. Some of the things I loved about the play was that the set consisted of three building decorated with Dominican, Puerto Rican and Mexican flags. These buildings also had three business on the first floor: a car and limo service; the bodega and the nail salon. I loved that because I swear to God that’s exactly how it is on my block except there’s a bodega on literally every corner.

The Spanglish spoken was great and incorporating into the script the little things like how first generation Latino’s have to live with what their parents passed on to them was fantastic. A good example was when Abuela Claudia spoke to Usnavi about how his father was inspired to name his son after what he read on the side of a boat on his way to America. To this Usnavi responded, “It read US Navy…” That was genius. That’s just one of many examples of how hilarious and applicable this play is.

Also, the music and choreography was incredible. It was a bunch of R&B, hip-hop, merengue/salsa or whatever y’all wanna call Spanish dance music. I’m Latino and even I’m not sure how to categorize it. One of my favorite segments was when the piragua guy would sing about selling his ices and how the commercial Mister Softee ice cream trucks were keeping his pockets light. He killed it. The hood wouldn’t be the hood without the piragua guy.

I loved the fact that most of the audience were made up of old rich white folk. Aside from me, Massy and the cast, there were only like 10 other Latinos in attendance. Them old rich folk probably think that the barrio is like “Making The Band” 24/7. I was enjoying the play but I was really marveling at how into the play these folks were. It was like they were watching National Geographic or something. It was real funny to me.

When the curtain came down my mind was made up: 4.5 gangstas.

“In The Heights” was authentic in the way it portrayed the Latino culture of New York City. It was a play about sacrifice and the gains and loses that come with that. A reminder of how we take things for granted not knowing that we may not have those things within reach come tomorrow. It shows that being rich at heart can afford you any home you need in your life. And how the notion of family shouldn’t be confined to a simple bloodline, but can be created through years of sharing sunny days along with rainy afternoons with those people you consider friends.

It was my first Broadway play and it was based on a lifestyle I could relate to. It really couldn’t have gotten any better. The only thing that was missing from this play was a Salvadorean flag on one of those buildings. But then again that’s actually accurate. I gotta do something about that.