Drumroll, please. Thank-you. A friend of mine is currently going through a mini-obsession with a show called In the Heights. Speaking as someone who knows, obsessions are painful, pathetic, and dizzyingly fun. It starts off innocently enough. A Google session here. A few Youtube videos there. It ends eleven months later with you standing in a crush of people on 49th Street while two drunken chorus girls throw pretzels at you. Sure, you're loving every minute of it while it's going on, but sooner or later you begin to feel guilty that they had to re-wallpaper the theatre because you chipped paint off the back wall while sitting in the last row. But, said friend may already be too far gone for me to save, so for now I'll fuel the fire and indulge her. She requested that I chat about In the Heights on my blog. I thought, "Why the hell not?" It's certainly better than the list of Sarah Palin jokes I had planned for today. So here we go.
In the Heights is a rap musical about the Upper Manhattan community of Washington Heights. It's half in Spanish and there are no white cast members, so Republicans need not attend. If the thought of an incredibly one-sided musical that screams, "Move to Washington Heights! We've got piragua and wise old ladies who feed birds and sing songs about their long ardurous journies from Cuba!" offends you, keep on walking. If not, stay right here with me. It really is a good show, though, if you're not looking for anything too deep. Oh, and, while nestled comfortably in my seat at the beautiful Richard Rodgers theatre, a thought popped into my head. Where are the crack dealers? Where are the muggers? I though this was about Washington Heights!! The fact of the matter is that if people randomly started dancing and singing in the streets of Washington Heights (or anywhere in New York, for that matter) they'd all get shot. Don't look at me, folks. I didn't write the show. If you want the REAL Washington Heights, get ye to the A train and get off at 181st. Just don't be too surprised when there are no people twirling eachother around in the streets and the guy selling the piragua isn't a baritone belter.
And now on to my abosolute favorite play of all time: Speech and Debate. Trust me, friends, it's not about speeching and debating. Thirty people that make up the audience sit in a room three levels underground and watch three teenagers scream at eachother and argue over whether their teacher is gay or not. (I just spent the last twenty minutes sitting here trying to make that not sound creepy.) It's long, intermission-less, music-less, and hysterically funny. Too bad it closed, cause it was, and I'm quoting here "a miracle that must be seen to be believed." And the lead actress was "magic every time she is on stage!" So while all the serious theatre freaks were trembling in awe of Patti LuPone's so-so performance in Gypsy, the new-age theatre freaks like myself were sitting in a small, stuffy, dark room on 44th Street. Good times. Good times. Now see, isn't this better than Wicked? Why go see a light fluffy musical about the witches of Oz when you can watch someone shoot themselves on stage, or have a nervous breakdown because their stripper daughter has rejected them after years of ruthless stage-parenting, or watch a demon barber slit people's throats, or watch a fifteen-year-old boy scream and sob because the girl he got pregnant died of an abortion? I leave you with that.