In The Heights comes home

Last night, In The Heights came home to Washington Heights with a one-night only benefit concert for the Viva Broadway initiative. The concert brought the original cast back together at the United Palace Theater, AKA the United Palace of Cultural Art Center – a glorious setting at Broadway between 175th and 176th street, right in the heart of Washington Heights. At the helm was smooth operator, writer-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.

When I first saw In The Heights in November of 2008 it felt like a homecoming of sorts. I was at the age where ridding myself of my latino-ness was a must: straighten the tight curls, get the blonde highlights, learn to say coffee instead of café. But a flaco with a hat by the name of Usnavi came on stage and sang of his home, his people and their hopes and dreams. I heard songs like “Piragua,” “Carnaval del barrio” and the final song, aptly called “Finale” that celebrated my culture, my life–and it hit me, being Puerto Rican was something I should be proud of and it was worth celebrating.

In honor of that spirit of celebration, I attended last night’s concert. We(the sister and I) took the BX 11 from the Bronx into Washington Heights, and after lots of turning (Jesus, that bus makes a turn on every other street) we had arrived. The will call line was huge, from some accounts it stretched as far back as four blocks, but we took our place and tried to keep our excitement under control. As we made our way to the front of the line, and the 8 o’clock start time got dangerous close, I, along with several other people in line, tweeted Lin to beg him not to start without us. He would later come out and run along the line letting everyone know the concert wouldn’t start until everyone was let in. Really the chaos outside was no one’s fault. The management at the United Palace clearly wasn’t prepared for the turn-out. I kept joking, saying “You know us latinos, we say we ain’t going to the party and then we show up with like 25 people.” From the people I spoke with, it seemed like a lot of the ticket purchases were made last minute, so will-call was a requirement…and really, you can’t blame some people for choosing the option–$8 to mail me tickets, estas loco!

Once we entered we ran to our seats in Orchestra, row N and saw Alex Lacamoire, Luis Miranda (Lin Manuel’s dad) and a few In The Heights alums, including Lexi Lawson. Then the announcement came for us to sit because everyone outside was going to be let in as general admission (I still don’t know if this meant people in the Will Call line were just going to be allowed in without their tickets or if they were sold GA tickets and then allowed to sit anywhere.) Whatever the case, folks were let in, seats began to fill and the cast came on stage. Right off the bat, there was screams and standing ovations. Lin came out, standing O. Lin put on the Usanvi hat, standing O. Lin and the rest of cast sang “In The Heights”…you guessed it, standing O. The amount of love and energy in that room was overwhelming. You can tell the cast was surprised and overjoyed by the outpouring of love. I, for one, couldn’t sit still. Todo el mundo danced and sang along. We even helped Karen Olivo when she forgot the lyrics at the end of “It won’t be long now.” You could hear a pin drop when the amazing Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia) sang “Paciencia y fe.” Once she was done, the crowd erupted and everyone was on their feet. Then came Blackout, and the iPhones were waved in the air. By the time intermission came in, I was spent. My legs were killing me from all the getting up and sitting down, and I was literally exhausted from all the joy. Act II promised to be just as thrilling and emotionally draining with the flag-waving in “Carnaval del Barrio,” the tear-inducing “Alabanza,” and the beautiful “Everything I know” which Mandy Gonzalez sang with so much heart and soul, I couldn’t help but tear up. Before you knew it, the “Finale” was upon us and it was over. Lin thanked us. We thanked him. And in return we got an encore performance of “Carnaval del Barrio.” This time everyone in the audience stood up, danced along and waved their beautiful flags. It was a wonderful, amazing way to end an amazing night. I should also note, that we got to hear two complete songs that were not included in the show ‘s Broadway run–“Para Siempre” which you hear as a looped recording throughout the show, and “Hear Me Out,” a song Lin wrote specifically for Chris Jackson and his character Benny. According to Lin, anyone who knows Chris knows his favorite saying is “That’s wassup,” and”Hear Me Out” has plenty of “That’s wassup” thrown in.

Being in that room, I realized how much this show changed me, how much I love it, and how much I miss it. I’ve always said RENT is my heart, but In The Heights is my soul. When you really sit down to think about it, the show has changed the image of the Latino in musical theater. It was the first time I heard the beats I grew up with played on a Broadway stage. It was the first time I could recognize every single character, as a character in my own life.

As a Puerto Rican who works in a predominately white-male dominated field, I get asked the West Side Story question, a lot: Do you Puerto Ricans sing and dance all the time? Are you going to cut me? What In The Heights did was take the image of the latino and made it a positive one. We don’t all have knives in our back pockets. Our people can do more than sing and dance. We are a family unit. A community filled with love, seeking to survive, thrive and succeed. A community willing to help each of its members out. We can dream. We can achieve. We can create. That’s what Lin did for us. He showed us that being who we are is more than enough and its something worth celebrating. Its something we should “sing so loud and raucous they can hear us across the bridge in East Secaucus.”

Thank you, Lin.
No pare, sigue, sigue.

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