With the temperature in the mid-90s, I figure this is the perfect time to send out some love to the Broadway cast recording of In the Heights.
I just finished listening to the two-disc cd, and it has a lot of what I enjoyed about the show: the energy, the humor, the spirit, the mixture of salsa, hip-hop and pop music, the very moving stories of immigrants in a Latino neighborhood at the very top of Manhattan. This is still my pick for the best musical of the year. Of all the musicals I saw this year, it's the one I most want to see a second time.
When I watched In the Heights, I loved the big ensemble numbers, like the opening song, "In the Heights,'' along with "96,000,'' where everyone in the neighborhood fantasizes about what they'd do with the money from a winning lottery ticket, and "Carnaval del Barrio." Aided by Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, they were so much fun and thrilling to watch.
On stage, I really enjoyed Lin-Manuel Miranda's rapping as Dominican bodega owner Usnavi. (Miranda composed the music and lyrics). But on the cd, there is a certain sameness to it after awhile. A little bit goes a long way. There's a lot of yo, yo, yo if you know what I mean. I still like the songs, but I just think I like watching them better than listening to them on their own.
One of my favorite songs is "Pacienca Y Fe," sung by Olga Merediz, who plays the neighborhood matriarch, Abuela Claudia. It's a beautiful song in which she reminisces about her childhood in Havana, about coming to New York with her mother and their struggle to make a life in America. And I loved Mandy Gonzalez, who plays Nina, the neighborhood's bright hope, in "Breathe," where she sings about returning home after a disappointing year in college.
While the rapping is fun, the songs I like the best on the cast recording, the ones that stick with me, are the slower ones. They're the songs that tell me something about the characters - where they grew up, what their lives are like, their dreams. I love immigrant stories, and while In the Heights may not be the most profound, it's got a lot of heart.