REVIEW – In the Heights – Broadway San Jose

After seeing In the Heights last night, I woke up thinking it was Saturday. It was seriously as if those amazing 2 ½ hours on a Tuesday had a little chat with Wed –Friday and said, “You only wish you could be this awesome, dude, just pack it in and start your weekend already.” It’s a wonderful and powerful show that can make the rest of the week feel totally unnecessary and thanks to Broadway San Jose I got my weekend feeling early. What a show. What performances. What are you doing? Go get your tickets already!

In the Heights really is the best of everything Broadway should be and should do. It tells a compelling story that’s all at once unique and universal and it tells it in a creative and uplifting way. The music, dance and dialogue are all real, relevant, clever and entertaining and it’s all presented in a way that feels from beginning to end like a remedy, like an electric catalyst for positive change.

I don’t think you need to like hip hop or rap to enjoy this show, but I happen to and it was a special treat to see this particular style of art highlighted. As a word girl I often get hung up on the lyrics of a song and have in the past had trouble with the sound in the Center for Performing Arts, but the words were loud and clear last night, easily digested upon the first time hearing them. And oh, those words…

The songs. Yes, yes, yes, let’s talk about those songs. So. Many. Words. So many. And, with the speed, rhymes, cadence and choreography all tied in to every single syllable, there’s absolutely no room for error. Like, none. Zero. NO ROOM. Which is scary and awesome and also quite admirable. This is the hardest working cast I’ve seen in a really long time.

Hip hop, slam poetry, rap, Latin salsa and ballad, this entire ensemble executes the music as well as the movement. And, I really do mean the entire ensemble, the cast, crew, designers, producers, the musicians all of them, they truly raise the bar. Hell, they raise the roof. They raise the temperature. They totally deserve raises. It was a total struggle to not want to get up and dance. I probably need to apologize to the couple next to me, I may have hummed and it’s possible I was gyrating a bit in my seat. If that was the case, I do indeed extend my mea culpa, but honestly, could you blame me?

Aside from excellent music and dancing, I loved that the technical stayed true to the thematic roots of the show. A really beautiful, detailed realistic Washington Heights neighborhood is represented with only a few artistic “liberties.” The set is stationary and void of all theatrical gimmicks and pretense, and is coupled with some of the most complex lighting I’ve seen. The result is consistent and effective. The lights help to establish alternative locations and emphasize internal moments and it works because it isn’t competing with other technical elements and it underscores instead of upstages the action.

This show is now, and it is then, and it is tomorrow and that to me adds an extra level of connection to the piece as a whole. I don’t need to speak Spanish, I don’t need to live in New York, I don’t need to have immigrated to be completely immersed in this story and be sympathetic to its characters. You can’t help but love these people who are just that; PEOPLE. I know, I’m stating the obvious, but I felt very much that these were not actors so much as they were real artist telling their story. A great way to get your audience in the moment with you is to “justify” breaking into song and art itself plays such a huge part in this story, not just in the telling of it. What could have been truly too schmaltzy or even overly preachy for a gal like me, somehow skated right past cheese and “political statement” and into brilliant resolution and I think a large part of that was due to the intense and truthful realism of these characters.

I feel fortunate to be able to have seen this show, kind of like I won the Broadway lottery. Tony-winning shows shouldn’t be entered into with such speculation and probably ought not to be such a surprise, but for what it’s worth I was pleasantly thrilled. This is an exceedingly rare opportunity to see a true community of artists on stage, passion coursing through every cell of their bodies, hope, struggle and joy flowing to the audience. A rare 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for this honest and fresh, feel good musical, that will certainly take you to new heights. In the Heights plays through Sunday, April 22 only at the Center for Performing Arts in San Jose.

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