Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In The Heights

This new musical with Broadway hopes takes place in, and concerns some (mostly Hispanic) peeps of, Washington Heights. Too often the musical's loose multi-character vibe feels like it's been blueprinted on Rent, but as it lacks that show's galvanizing social message and its gravity, its stories feel awfully trite. The first forty minutes are a washout in terms of storytelling - even with a fair dose of athletic, pulsing choreography and a lively number here and there (half the score is fresh quasi-rap: good; the other half is blandly earnest standard issue old school pop: bad) it gets tiresome soaking up the local color when we don't have a framing story to latch on to. When the main story does come into eventual focus it puts nothing at stake: a girl returns to the neighborhood to spare her family the expense of college, but it's hard to care with no indication that she is anything but happy about it. When we learn (near the end of the first act, in the show's best song "96,000") that someone in the neighborhood has won the lottery and will get out of the Heights, it reveals this show's biggest mistake: it's too gentle to make this 'hood look like anything some of its cute characters would want to escape from.

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